How craft beer beat the recession

New research shows small brewers surged as bigger brands and the economy slumped.

By Jason Notte Jan 24, 2013 4:28PM
Image: Men drinking beer -Radius Images, CorbisThe craft beer industry has no problem telling folks how fast it's growing, but now a market research firm says that small brewers' recession-era growth should make Budweiser and Coors beware.

The research organization Mintel reports that sales of craft beers, including Boston Beer Company's (SAM) Samuel Adams brand, the Craft Brew Alliance's (BREW) Widmer Brothers and Chico, Calif., mainstay Sierra Nevada, more than doubled from $5.7 billion in 2007 to $12 billion in 2012.

About 24% of beer drinkers told Mintel that they drank more craft beer sold at stores in 2012 than they did compared to 2011, while 22% upped their craft beer drinking in bars.

The Brewers Association craft beer industry group has been crowing about that growth for the last few years, and says craft beer expanded 13% by volume and 15% in sales back in 2011 alone. Meanwhile, the total number of breweries in the U.S. rose from 1,793 in 2010 to 2,336 at the end of December. That easily surpasses the 2,011 breweries operating here in 1887, when brewing hit its peak with help from European immigrants who brought their home countries' brewing traditions along for the ride.

Existing craft brewers are seeing huge growth as well. Boston Beer's production has increased 25% since 2007 and surpassed 2 million barrels for the first time in 2009 -- at the peak of the financial crisis -- according to Beer Marketer's Insights. Sierra Nevada saw sales increase 23% during that span and announced plans last year to expand operations to an East Coast brewery in Asheville, N.C. New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo., which has increased production 33% since 2007, will be joining Sierra in Asheville and bulking up its brewing capacity as well. Meanwhile, Lagunitas Brewing Company, out of Petaluma, Calif., has more than tripled its output since 2007 and has plans to open a new brewery and tap room in Chicago this year.

Craft beer is a tiny pour in the beer industry's $78 billion stein, but its take is rising. The Brewers' Association says craft beer accounted for 5.7% of all beer by volume in 2011 while bringing in 9.1% of the industry's sales.

That's pretty small, considering one out of every five beers sold in the U.S. is a Bud Light, but Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) and MolsonCoors' (TAP) combined 76.5% share of the U.S. beer market is dwindling. The big breweries dropped production 3% apiece in 2011 as craft beer sucked up market share, and both are putting more emphasis on craft-style brands like Leinenkugel's, Goose Island and Blue Moon. Drinkers seem just fine savoring the craft brewers' slow-building results.

More on moneyNOW

Jan 24, 2013 9:05PM
Beer - The Original Comfort Beverage.

Lost your Wife, Girl, Job, Dog  - Grab a cold one and find the bottom.
Jan 24, 2013 8:27PM
Didn't Fred Maytag (washing machines) start microbrews forty yrs. ago with his Anchor
Steam in S.F?  I am amazed at the selection of beers in most large liquor stores and supermarkets.  One of my several part time jobs while going to SD State and UCSD in the late 60s was working in liquor stores near the two campuses.  One hell of a change! 
Jan 25, 2013 8:09AM

America loves it's beer.  But we are a nation of weekender binge drinking boorish bumpkins.


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