BOUTIQUES GO BOOM
The grim economy has been anything but bad for the craft beer industry. Those who find themselves shying away from expensive wines and spirits are turning toward a more affordable indulgence: craft beer. National sales of craft beer rose 9 percent in the first half of 2OO9, the Brewers Association reported in August. Overall, craft breweries have taken a larger share of American sales in recent years, holding about 6.3 percent of the market in dollars. Boutique beers made $6.3 billion in retail sales and grew 5.9 percent by volume in 2OO8, with regional microbreweries growing at the fastest rate, according to the Brewers Association. While their 2OO9 growth hasn’t matched the 2OO8 level last year, when revenue rose 1O.1 percent from 2OO7 and production by 5.9 percent, it’s still up. In comparison, imported beer sales fell by 9.5 percent in the first six months of the year. The number of US breweries also has risen to 1525, its highest level in more than 1OO years. Although craft beer may cost more than most US-made beers, it’s inexpensive enough to be a treat. A six-pack of extremely high-end beer may go for $1O to $15 – expensive for beer but hardly comparable to a fine wine or spirit. Additionally, industry experts say a consumer trend toward local products is helping to spur the boutique beer renaissance.
But it’s not just the high-end craft beers that are seeing strong sales from the recession. Anheuser-Busch has noticed drinkers trying to stretch their dollars and had adjusted its marketing to roll with the changing times. For the first time in 25 years, Anheuser-Busch’s Natural Light brand has its own national TV advertising campaign. Ads that were tested regionally last year went national earlier this year in cable outlets such as Comedy Central, Spike and Versus. As things remain in economic flux, some of the biggest winners are Anheuser-Busch’s “sub-premium” beers – including Natural Light, Busch and Busch Light. However, A-B has some strong competition from MillerCoors.