It has become increasingly popular in recent years to predict a slowdown or even a collapse of the American craft beer industry as it continues to swell to unprecedented levels. Every once in a while we hear from armchair economists warning that a “craft beer bubble” is rapidly approaching. This may still be the case, but as the newly released craft beer statistics for 2012 show, it’s certainly not happening just yet.
The numbers released by the Brewers Association on Monday exceeded pretty much all expectations. Craft beer continues to explode in its growth, and is beginning to capture a chunk of the overall market that is impossible for larger brewers to ignore. Most notably, the craft brewing industry cracked the 10 percent barrier in total dollar share of the beer market for the first time, posting numbers that have expanded exponentially each year.
Here’s a breakdown of all the statistics released.
* Craft beer was up 15 percent by volume in 2012, and up 17 percent industry-wide in dollar growth.
* Total barrels of craft beer produced increased from 11.5 million to 13.2 million, a production increase of 13 percent.
* Craft beer market share in terms of volume increased from 5.7 percent in 2011 to 6.5 percent in 2012.
* The total number of breweries increased by 18 percent to 2,403 in 2012, by far an all-time high.
* That includes a whopping 409 new brewery openings in 2012. In the same time, only 43 breweries closed. These breweries added around 5,000 new brewing jobs, bringing the craft beer industry’s job totals up to 108,440 workers nationwide.
* American craft beer exports were up a ridiculous 72 percent. That includes wacky figures like a 140 percent increase in exports to Canada, a 150 percent increase in exports to Brazil and an absurd 162 percent increase in exports to the entire Asian continent. These are like cartoon numbers.
The entire brewing industry (including macro brewers) grew by 1 percent in 2012, reversing a multi-year slide. Of course, a certain amount of that growth is due to the thriving craft beer subset, rapidly becoming a bigger piece of the overall pie.
These are the kinds of numbers that I guarantee are not being ignored by the executives at Anheuser Busch-Inbev or SAB-MillerCoors. The men and women who control the beer industry’s mega corporations are by no means stupid, and the writing on the wall is plain to see when it comes to consumer tastes. What people want from their beer is changing, and the fizzy yellow products they have produced for so long have run up against a wall of market saturation and disinterest. In many ways, I pity the people who are tasked with finding a way to sell more Budweiser. There are no new markets to enter and no new customers to target. Worse, their most loyal customers are becoming curious about trying new products, and they aren’t scoring any converts from the world of craft who are suddenly trading in their IPAs for American light lagers.
That’s why, more than ever, you can expect to see big brewer involvement in the world of “crafty” beer in the future. We may not be too far off from a day when Anheuser and Miller are touting their own imperial stouts or India pale ales. More likely though (let’s be honest, a certainty) is the continued acquisition of burgeoning craft brewers who are willing to sell out their businesses to AB or Miller-Coors, as Goose Island did in 2011. Look for these mega-brewers “craft divisions” to continue aggressive acquisitions of any decent craft brewery willing to sell to them. You can’t fault AB and Miller-Coors for doing it — after all, this is the part of the industry that is growing, as I believe the above statistics have implied.
Ultimately, though, it can be argued that even successful craft acquisitions create more problems for the mega brewers in the end. If you introduce a Bud Light drinker to Goose Island brews and get them hooked, you can expect that drinker to then move on to exploring the rest of the American craft beer landscape, including plenty not owned by macro brewers. In a sense, it’s a little like doing free advertising for the industry you’re simultaneously trying to crush.
And so, I say bring on the “bubble.” I think you’ll find it tough to burst.