RALEIGH, June 7, 2012 – From the grocery store, to the local pub, to the specialty beer stores that are popping up no matter what city you happen to be in, the craft beer movement is real and it is getting harder to ignore.
The American beer market has experienced a growth in both craft breweries, and the awareness of quality craft product.
According to The Brewers Association, the largest organization in America promoting awareness for craft beer and breweries, there were nearly 2,000 craft breweries in 2011, a number achieved via steady growth over the last three decades. Craft brewing, and home craft brewing, started to take a foothold in the U.S. in 1976 with the New Albion Brewery, Sonoma, CA, which inspired home brewers to “follow in their footsteps,” creating new breweries, home craft breweries, in the early 1980s. Their numbers have been increasing ever since.
This continuous gain in momentum has risen a lot of questions about what the American consumer values in their beer product. While many small breweries have marketing departments and sponsored events similar to that of the big three breweries - Anheuser-Busch, SAB-Miller and Molson Coors Brewing Company - the settings and goals are incomparable.
The small guys emphasize what goes into the product, often featuring the brew-masters and fellow crew in commercials, Internet and magazine advertisements discussing the process of the beers production.
The teams behind Budweiser and Coors still continue to contextualize their product, often focusing on the “right time” to crack a brew, instead of the beer itself. These ads are aimed at a male audience, yet the machismo emphasis seems to do little for the fans of craft beer.
Clearly there is a large gap between the values of patrons in big beer and craft beer though craft breweries are still quite small, comprising of a little fewer than 5.7% of overall market share as of 2011 (Brewer’s Association). Even so, it is evident that the big guns of the industry are getting worried about emergence of smaller craft brew manufacturers.
More commercials like those of Blue Moon, which is a Coors product, are emulating the attention that Sam Adams commercials show in brewing process. Blue Moon’s recent commercials show high production values and clever graphics, but with little description of what the beer is, though the visual appeal is quite apparent
Then there’s Budweiser, who recently experimented with the market through Bud Light Platinum, a higher alcohol product that mirrors that tendency for craft beers to be higher in the percentage of alcohol volume.
The issue with these reactions by the big guys is that they have not addressed the values of the craft beer community, which is continuously bringing in new comers. Consumers know that craft ales and lagers, which are available in many grocery stores, simply have more character, and deliver enhanced complexities that have long been sought after.
While a lot of it is for taste, it’s also about the community that these smaller companies are part of.
Brian Henrici, junior marketing manager of Brewery Ommegang a Belgian style craft brewer out of Cooperstown, New York says:
“In terms of marketing we like to focus on education and I think that is really what the craft movement is about. We put a lot of time, effort and resources into meeting directly with customers and introducing them to Belgian beers.”
Ommegang is lauded for their Belgian style beers, and regularly receive awards for their distinct interpretations of traditional Belgian ales.
Henrici knows that it is important to stay grounded and close to the patrons, no matter how much recognition they may get:
“Even as the craft beer industry has grown it has continued to focus on this personal connection with educating new customers and keeping the craft beer fans entertained and it helps to make it more of an experience,” Henrici says.
The views held by Henrici and Ommegang can be found all around the craft community. Getting involved more individually with the customer is encouraged, and this transparency is a big player in the growth.
Alongside Ommegang, big names in the craft brewing world like Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium carry a similar controlled nature in their business. Their success stems from not only their high-quality product, but also their ability to identify the growing value in ingredient awareness, plus communal efforts. It is also the courage that these companies have to constantly experiment and put out new products.
Criticism and feedback from consumers are often welcomed on what can be done better, and some even invite home brewers to send their own beer to the brewery for a chance to be put in the market.
Beer Camp from Sierra Nevada and Longshot from Sam Adams are getting customers who are devoted home brewers involved with the brewery in very direct channels that go past simple promotional prizes.
On top of this close-knit focus, craft breweries also practice something that would be considered outrageous in competitive business – competitors working together. Walk into a place that sells craft product, and it is not uncommon to see beers that have been made as a result of collaboration by two or more breweries.
The smaller guys know they are up against Goliath, and since they know that the competition is unmatched, they know it would be absurd to fight against each other. Good business is one mission, but spreading the awareness of enhanced choice for consumers is certainly one of the priorities. With more and more craft beer showing up everywhere, it seems they are doing just fine with that.
The craft beer industry is certainly setting the example of a market with more conscientious consumers looking for more than what it may seem.
It would be one thing if the craft sector were small enough where barely anything would be noticeable. But when semi-trucks adorned with a craft beer brand logos on the side pass down the highway, it is clear that the consumer is learning, and learning fast.
While the macro breweries will still probably have the upper hand for now, it would be no surprise for them to admit that craft guys are definitely doing something right, and they are only getting wiser.
Mike Lamardo is a blogger based out of Raleigh, North Carolina. You can reach Mike with any comments or questions at email@example.com.
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