Yesterday I was fooling around with Brewers Almanac statistics and came across three data points I think are critical if you want to understand the beer market in the United States. I have put them into visual form for your consumption pleasure. First up, we have the total beer market in the US (smoothed to avoid the chaos from 1919-1933) in millions of barrels. You'll see it follows a nice upward trend before plateauing around 1980.
From the post-prohibition period to about 1980, you have an expected incline for a country on the move. (We went from 150 million to 226 million.) But then note the trend, even while the country continued to grow (roughly 310 million now) thereafter, when the total beer US market stayed right around 200 million barrels. How is it possible? We started to drink less:
That's a little bit bad if you're a brewer in the US, but not terrible. As long as people keep coming, you can at least hold firm. Except that you can't. Since 1980, purveyors of beer have gotten quite a bit more numerous. Behold what happens when you take into account the effect of imports and craft breweries*. Then the number for the mass market beers looks a whole lot worse.
In the years I've been writing about beer, Anheuser-Busch has managed to sell about half the beer in America, and I think they're still doing that, more or less. But you can see from these figures that they're only able to do it by cannibalizing or absorbing other mass market brands. Imports now constitute nearly 28 million barrels--14% of the market--and most of that is stuff like Pacifico and Corona, which helps explain why AB InBev was so keen to snap up Modelo. The amount of mass-market American lager has now dipped to about 150 million barrels--the amount they were selling 40 years ago when there were 85 million fewer Americans. If the trajectory continues, that segment could well fall below 100 million barrels in the next forty.
Interesting times, no?
*These are a bit hard to estimate. The Brewers Almanac gives good numbers on imports, but doesn't parse out "craft beer." I've used Brewers Association members, which are exact, and added an estimate of extra-craft beers like Blue Moon and Shock Top and those breweries the BA has ejected from their membership roles (though I've probably low-balled it).