Why has craft beer’s growth slowed?
The Brewers Association is pointing a finger at Big Beer.
After realizing a 15% growth in volume in 2015, the craft beer category grew only 6% in volume last year.
In a report released this week, the association, which represents small and independent U.S. brewers, suggests this slowdown was caused largely by corporate acquisitions of craft brewers. When a Big Beer company like Anheuser-Busch buys a microbrewery, that producer is no longer considered craft (by the association and others) because it is no longer independently owned.
In this way the category lost 1.2 million barrels in 2016 due to corporate acquisitions of major microbreweries in recent years. At the same time, the remaining small and independent brewers grew 1.4 million barrels on their own, according to the report, making up for what was lost to Big Beer.
“Small and independent brewers are operating in a new brewing reality still filled with opportunity, but within a much more competitive landscape,” said Bart Watson, chief economist, Brewers Association, in a press release. “As the overall beer market remains static and the large global brewers lose volume, their strategy has been to focus on acquiring craft brewers.”
“This has been a catalyst for slower growth for small and independent brewers and endangered consumer access to certain brands,” he added. “Small and independent brewers were able to fill in the barrels lost to acquisitions and show steady growth but at a rate more reflective of today’s industry dynamics. The average brewer is getting smaller and growth is more diffuse within the craft category, with producers at the tail helping to drive growth for the overall segment.”
Altogether craft beer reached a 12.3% market share by volume of the overall beer category in 2016. This is up from 12.2% in 2015, and much higher than the 5.5% market share craft beer had as recently as 2011.
The number of operational U.S. breweries increased 16.6% in 2016 to 5,301. That number is broken down as follows: 3,132 microbreweries, 1,916 brewpubs, 186 regional craft breweries and 67 large or otherwise non-craft brewers.