Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Bud Light: Big Beer Trends for 2014

beer to the future blank backgroundThere’s been lots of talk about trends in beer for 2014, but it’s focused on craft beer, where the majority of innovation and change has come from in recent years. What about Big Beer? Well, you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.

Or so I’ve heard.

The past year was a big one for craft beer. Surely you’ve noticed, despite cries of impending doom. But you know what, 2013 was kind of good for Big Beer, too.

Sure, AB InBev and MillerCoors dominate beers Americans no longer drink, but that’s not necessarily a complete loss for them. While craft increasingly takes up more market share, macro beer companies are simply adding to the fray of “premium” options. We’re not necessarily seeing the fall of Big Beer, we’re seeing the evolution of it.

While Miller Lite sales are down, MillerCoors profits are up thanks to Tenth and Blake, Leinenkugel, Third Shift, Redd’s and more. Bud sales are slumping and Bud Light is no longer America’s favorite beer, but AB InBev is doing just fine with Shock Top, Black Crown and the ever-popular “Rita” line of malt beverages.

We talk a lot about the “crafty” nature of Big Beer companies, but why don’t we talk about the “crafty” nature of beer drinkers? Blue Moon sales are skyrocketing and it’s considered America’s new favorite beer, followed by Sam Adams and Bud Light. But at a time when it seems clear consumers are seeking more flavor from their beer – and sales of craft beer obviously hint at that – what the future holds for the big boys of the industry seems simple: more “crafty” beer.

Here’s an oversimplified way to look at this conundrum. I’d argue that increasingly, this is a model for more beer drinkers as craft, “crafty” and every other style of beer or beer-like beverage enters the marketplace aimed at a new kind of beer consumer – one focused on more than yellow, fizzy lager:

beer venn diagram

Here, Blue Moon is a stand-in, but you can certainly throw any “crafty” Big Beer option there. The point is for the Average Joe or Jane who is caught in the battle of craft beer and Big Beer, this seems about right. They probably dabble in both and don’t care as much as I do about little details. That’s OK.

So what will 2014 hold for us? Budweiser could introduce an India pale lager, because everyone needs an IPA, but AB InBev is sure to offer more Ritas – get ready for Mango! Tired of others stealing the show, MillerCoors has decided to get crafty by simply ripping off AB InBev’s playbook. Everyone will continue into cider, thanks to a rapidly-growing market.

None of these things may come as surprises, but what do they have in common? From my vantage point, two things:

1. It helps to be special in order to sell. Where we once relied on craft beer to supply new, innovative beers or tasty seasonal releases, we can now get these anywhere. New releases, new packages … they’ve all been proven to work in 2013, so why wouldn’t we see more in 2014?

2. Flavor is key. People vote with their wallets – an extension of their taste buds. Even if we don’t like natural flavoring in our beer, it seems to me that as craft beer has pushed people’s boundaries of what beer can taste like, Big Beer would love to tag along. Since they can’t change their old, stand-by products, we get new ones.

The creativeness that was once monopolized by craft beer is slowly being applied to how Big Beer is doing business. Adapt or die, after all.

Even though I’m not looking forward to the next Shock Top Campfire Wheat – nor is this guy – somebody is. In our increasingly competitive beer marketplace, that’s worth something.

But what about you? How do you see these changes impacting the industry?

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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18 thoughts on “Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Bud Light: Big Beer Trends for 2014

  1. I’m not sure what will be effecting the beer industry as a whole but for the craft beer sector of it I have a feeling a lot more people will be barrel aging a lot more things, I think (and hope) saisons will spread more, and sours will continue their slow growth. Oh, and of course IPAs shall reign supreme for another year if not 2 or 3.

    • Credit New Belgium for making the idea of sours more mainstream. With their distribution range, I’ve never seen more Lips of Faith offerings. I’d argue that their choice of fruit – both normal and exotic – works well to pique consumer interest, too.

      • I worry that the “average drinker” won’t be able to stomach many sours. I hope they’ll grow for us niche weirdos, but I don’t see them becoming mainstay beers.

        I’m also really wary of IPLs. The few I’ve had feel totally out of whack. You can’t just put an adjunct lager in a room with an IPA and yell “NOW KISS”

        I’m not much for Nostradamusing, so I’ll leave that to you guys. I’ll just write about whatever crazy stuff happens in retrospect.

      • Sours aren’t for the average drinker, but the more average drinkers there are then the more weirdos there will eventually be and the sours will grow.

        I agree on IPLs, I hate the things. Mostly from a clashing of flavor profiles and preconcieved notions. Bending the rules of what we know is how we grow as a culture (beer and otherwise) but smacking them against each other is how Schoenberg became a popular composer and made me want to burst my ear drums.

      • For the average drinker, I agree. Sours aren’t even worth mentioning, lest you wish for a crinkled face of disgust.

        IPLs, well, there’s at least some showing that they sell. Well enough for Sam Adams to make Double Agent a year-round offering and for Ballast Point to put Fathom in cans. The verbiage “IPL” would certainly work on some, while “citrusy lager” or “more flavorful lager” could work on others.

        I dare not make all-encompassing predictions, but I do believe there’s some merit to IPLs, ciders and the creation of “premium” beers, based on this year’s sales and movement by the behemoths of the industry.

      • Yea, cider is a clear one, and I think with the right spin and product placement, “premium” beers will keep winning over all those Saturday night moonlight tailgate parties I keep hearing about in Country music.

        Still can’t get on team IPL. I haven’t had Fathom yet though, so I guess I should reserve judgement until my sample size is bigger.

        P.S. Great article as usual.

      • I agree. I absolutely hate sours for now (I say that because I also absolutely hated hoppy beers at first). But my mom really enjoys sours so I’m sure there are plenty of people out there to enjoy them.

        As for IPLs, I am cautiously optimistic. I don’t think I’ve had more than one of this style just yet but I really enjoy Ballast Point’s Fathom.

        More so than IPLs, though, I think we will see more beers put out that add hops to other styles. Alesmith has been very successful with two beers this year, Evil Dead Red, and Winter Yulesmith, that both mixed red beers with hop flavors quite nicely. Considering most stores are already sold out of the Winter Yulesmith around here it has been selling quite well.

      • I think one of my most disappointing beers of 2013 was also one of the last I had in 2013 in Southern Tier’s Krampus. They called it an Imperial Helles Lager, but I was pretty sure I had a Pale Ale fighting to be an IPA. It had absolutely no lager like appeal and that did not make for a happy lager loving Douglas. I’ll be very wary before I order something like this again.

      • If it wasn’t 2013, I’m pretty sure 2014 should be the year of ALL TEH HOPZ.

        I’m usually a fan of Southern Tier brews for about half a bottle, then something just seems wrong. Too sweet, too hopped up…. A little restraint can go a long way!

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