Someone once said, “Reality is an illusion caused by a lack of good beer.” But today they might want to amend that statement to read an “excess” of good beer, as some new category realities kick in.
For some background, consider it was 34 years ago when Jim Koch founded the Boston Beer Company. Armed with a revolutionary “craft” alternative to traditional beers, he launched the now-famous Sam Adams brand. Back then Mr. Koch capitalized on shifting consumer tastes and their desire for novelty, and turned the company into what’s now the second-largest craft brewery in the United States. In the regular beer category, Sam Adams shows up at the top of the list in our Customer Loyalty and Engagement Index, and it’s the only craft beer that appears on that list, but it seems that Mr. Koch’s brand may become a casualty of the beer revolution he began.
According to the Brewers Association, of the top 50 overall breweries, 43 are craft brewing companies, meaning companies that produce smaller batches of beer than large-scale corporate breweries whose beers are characterized by an emphasis on quality, flavor, ingredients, and brewing innovation rather than just ubiquitous distribution. To put our “excess of good beer” comment into perspective, new craft breweries are hopping up at about 2 a day, so currently there are currently about 3,100 craft brewers in the U.S., albeit some of them very small.
But it explains part of the reason why domestic craft beer sales were up 22% year-over-year. Well, more options, sure, but also a continuing consumer desire for all things new, with made-to-order better-meets-my-expectations feel to them – or more accurately, a better/different/unique taste. Which is all good for craft brewers, but problematic for bigger, more traditional beer brands. That includes Sam Adams, whose success works against it to a certain degree.
As the brand got more popular and more widely distributed, it lost some of its authenticity, some of its local “craftiness,” if you will. It also means that on-premise and retail competition has gotten a lot tougher, and that’s making the larger, more traditional brewers, including Boston Beer, nervous.
But as they also say, there’s nothing for a case of nerves like a case of beer, or at least case sales of beer, and when it comes specifically to craft beers, for the moment, Sam Adams is #1 on that list too. Here’s how consumers ranked the top brands when it came to meeting consumers’ thirst for a great-tasting beer, with that authentic homegrown brew “feel:”
- Sam Adams
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
- Fat Tire
- Brooklyn Lager
- Dogfish Head
There are more craft beer brands on the way, so the battle for the retailers’ shelves, saloons’ taps, and consumers’ wallets is only going to surge. And there will be victors and losers, but brewers should be stout of heart. Napoleon advised, “On victory, you deserve beer. On defeat, you need it,” so watch for further dispatches from the front of the battle of the beers.
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