A week from today, leadership overseeing the Boston Beer suite of brands – most notably Samuel Adams beer – will present their Q1 earnings report. If recent hints by founder Jim Koch are any indication, there’s reason to suspect (conspiratorially or not) that it may not be all sunshine and roses.
The last few years have been tough for Boston Beer. Declining interest across a variety of brands accounted for a 7% drop in dollar sales for the Sam Adams portfolio in 2016, sentiment that has only continued into this year.
Through nearly the first quarter of 2017, Boston Lager dollar sales dropped around 8% compared to the same timeframe last year. Rebel, the IPA that was supposed to reinvigorate interest in the brand, got remade to start this year. It’s down 20% in dollar sales so far in grocery, convenience and other bread-and-butter stores for the company.
I, like many others, see Sam Adams as the brand that launched a lifetime of beer geekdom. But things are changing rapidly for the company. For longtime devotees, it’s not much for better as it is worse.
Today is April 8, Saison Day, a fake holiday created for the beer community because if Hallmark can pull it off why can’t we?
I often poke fun of such occasions on Twitter, but with consideration, perhaps today *is* a good time to recognize the style, full of life in its effervescence and yeast-driven flavor. In many ways, saison is an ideal beer for where we currently find the American beer industry. Its malleability presents brewers with plenty of ways to approach its final product, creating something as simple and refreshing as a table beer or as hoppy as our beloved IPAs.
Which is why, in terms of “trends,” saison may be a fun one to watch.
This past weekend was a momentous one for the United States, signaling literal and figurative change throughout our government, prompting a variety of actions and reactions from passionate Americans across the political spectrum.
The presidency of Donald Trump has emboldened and impassioned all sorts, including those in beer.
Over the past year, I’ve written several times about the idea of “authenticity,” culminating in a recent post examining the role it plays in our perception of beer quality. A collection of research was shared in that piece, including the psychological connection between drinker and brewery.
Which poses an interesting question for those in the beer business: is it a good idea to go political?
We find ourselves in a unique time as beer lovers. Everything and anything is available to us. Whatever we want, whenever we want it.
With a record number of breweries nationwide, more than 5,000 businesses are creating a vast array of styles and flavor experiences, often nearby where we live. According to the Brewers Association, roughly three-quarters of drinking-age adults in the U.S. live within 10 miles of a brewery.
The flip side of this freedom of choice is the natural competition that comes with it. Keeping an IPA on tap is important to satiate American drinkers’ love for all things lupulin, but today’s brewery faces challenges presented by all the other entrants into the industry, roughly two a day. Finding a niche, or, at least, creating one, is a pivotal part of the business, whether it’s as a brewery as a whole or simply providing novel experiences every time someone walks through taproom doors.
Increasingly, the process of creating something “rare” is playing a larger role for brewers. This could be a celebrated one-off beer with limited quantities or a dedicated tap on-location that serves creations never to leave the premises. As businesses grow, evolve and consider how best to position themselves, the use of rarity in all its varieties has potential to impact breweries, industry tastemakers and drinkers.
What better kind of “end of year” review than one related to hops, the national treasure of our beer loving country?
Another annual report was released this week, this time from the USDA, providing updated statistics that further show glimpses into our ongoing love affair with whatever will give our IPAs that “juicy” flavor everyone is seeking these days. While last year’s darling might have been Mosaic, there’s no question who the belle of the ball is this time around.
AB InBev and MillerCoors continue to watch as flagship brands slowly decline in sales, but some legacy craft breweries are suffering as well. Sales of Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale (2.8 percent) and Torpedo IPA (2.3 percent) are down. Sam Adams continues to face a free fall for Boston Lager, declining nearly 12 percent in 2016.
“If [consumers] have two [beers] they feel are equal, and one’s local and one’s not local, that’s an important part to the decision for two-thirds of craft purchasers,” Brewers Association economist Bart Watson recently mentioned at a Brewbound Session in San Diego.
So what are these Big Boys of beer to do? Follow the lead of their smaller, more nimble competition.
In May, while attending the Craft Brewers Conference, I was able to ask members of the Brewers Association administration about the organization’s efforts to address issues related to diversity and inclusion.
Following their responses, I wrote this piece, pointing out the rapidly shifting conversation about gender and race and why the BA should take the opportunity to be a leader in the effort. It was recognized by the North American Guild of Beer Writers with an honorable mention award for “Best Beer Commentary or Criticism.”
In the months since, Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, brainstormed and wrote the column, “Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz,” pointing out what the BA currently knows, what it wants to know and what it’ll do in the coming year and beyond to better support and promote diversity in its many forms.
As a follow up to the coverage on this blog, I recently spoke to Julia Herz about her column and what she hopes it’ll do to advance efforts by the Brewers Association.
In our youth, school hallways were full of speculation of stolen kisses and scandalous breakups. As adults, our attention may be taken by tabloid magazines at the grocery store, but we refocus on what impacts our lives and interests, seeking out insight into the next plotlines and twists that will enliven the news of the day.
In recent years, beer lovers have followed this cycle with glee and horror as investments and brewery sales have become a regular part of the industry. Along the way, hearts are broken and curious minds churn, wondering what’s next for these businesses.
What a terrifying world we live in. Two breweries opening up each day. Stores stocking week-old beer. Shelves lined with bottles and cans as far as the eye can see.
“Our customers are thinking, ‘how much more of an assortment can you carry?'” AB InBev CEO Carlos Brito recently told Just Drinks, adding that consumers are “a bit tired of choice and go for fewer brands.”
The end is nigh. Or, at least, that’s how the leader of the world’s largest beer company would like you to see it. Because let’s be honest, beer drinkers aren’t taking to the streets to protest the volume of what’s available to them. In many ways, they’re embracing it.
There are specific problems facing beer sales, from maintaining flagship brands to warding off wine and spirits, but the idea of choice seems more like a welcomed challenge than worrisome threat. Brito’s belief that “[t]here’s only so much shelf space that you can share and cold box that you can split,” is a factually accurate representation of store layout, but presenting an array of options isn’t as cut and dry as he’d like you to think.
Instead let’s focus on what’s getting the most attention: the brunt of Brito’s assertion. Are consumers “tired of choice”?
There’s an inherent problem with the argument the beer community makes when it decries the never-ending war between Big Beer and the Little Guys.
Yes, there are issues to discuss and advantages for some over others, but in the fight for share of mind and stomach, there are battles that go beyond AB InBev versus the world of craft. The lines extend past beer.
In recent years, as buyouts and heated discussions about distribution have taken place, drinkers might have been missing a shift in the very ground beneath their feet. At bars and restaurants across the country, tap lines have never offered such an array of choice, but the same could be said for what’s sitting on the shelves behind the bartender, too.
It’s not just about beer against beer these days. Wine and spirits are coming for your pint glass, too.