24 February 2009

Recession? What recession? UPDATED

Article from yesterday's Boston Herald:

As most other business segments contend with negative growth, craft beer makers - small, independent and traditional brewers that produce less than 2 million barrels per year - are enjoying slowed but still-strong sales increases and outperforming the beer industry as a whole.

While craft brewers have seen slowdowns in the volume of their beer consumed at restaurants and bars, business has picked up at the packies as more people spend their free time at home to save money.

Massachusetts-based brewers such as Boston Beer Co., Harpoon Brewery and Cisco Brewers say they’re also benefiting from consumers trading down to their brews from more expensive wines and liquor.

“In boom times, we might be envying our friends in financial services, but they’re now envying us,” said Dan Kenary, cofounder and president of Harpoon Brewery in Boston. “Beer is a staple. You might not be able to go out and spend $75 on dinner, but you can go out and spend $8 or $9 on a six-pack.”

Go read the whole thing. (Thanks to Instapundit for the link.)

UPDATE: More on the subject from Washington Post beer columnist Greg Kitsock, with a slightly different take:

Americans are not drinking less in the recession, but they appear to be drinking cheaper stuff.

Shipments of beer, for instance, were up by more than 1.3 million (0.6 percent) last year, according to the Beer Institute. But the so-called premium mainstream brands such as Bud and Miller Lite and major imports Corona and Heineken reported decreases. The big winners: no-frills economy labels such as Pabst Blue Ribbon and Keystone Light, whose 12- or 30-packs often sell for less than a six-pack of some higher-end brands.

"Keystone Light is the hottest brand in the industry," says Benjamin Steinman, publisher and editor of the newsletter Beer Marketer's Insights. "It grew more than 500,000 barrels last year."

Nonetheless, craft beers (fuller-flavored and pricier, from small independent breweries) also fared well, up 5.8 percent in volume last year, according to the Colorado-Based Brewers Association. True, that's only half the torrid 12 percent growth rate that craft beers registered in 2007. But it's still way ahead of the beer industry as a whole.

The explanation? Many believe it reflects a trading down: that craft beer is siphoning off sales from wine and spirits. "The people who bought top-shelf $10 margaritas are now buying Sam Adams for $5," says Jim Koch, chairman of Boston Beer Co.

(Disclaimer: Kitsock is also the editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, which runs my Baltimore column and occasional articles.)

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