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Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Google released their "year in search" today, which charts the trends in every conceivable area of interest.  That includes a top ten list for beers searched, but it isn't particularly illuminating.  They also have an interactive tool that allows you to plug in search terms and see how they've performed over time--and using that, we can glean more interesting trends.  It's that time of year, so I don't have hours to sit and play with this tool--but here are a couple interesting findings.*

 Let's start out with a comparison I did to track the two currents in the beer market.  The red line tracks searches for "Bud Light" (the country's most popular mass market lager) and the blue tracks "craft beer."

There are a couple things to say here.  The first is obviously to acknowledge a pattern we see in real life--craft beer is gaining while mass market lagers struggle to stay relevant.  (Coors Light, which is fading and less popular than Bud Light, is now trending below craft beer.)  But there's another possible interpretation.  Our minds tell us that if craft beer commands 10% of the beer sales, it must similarly command only 10% of all beer drinkers.  But that's always been wrong.  The heaviest users of beer (a small group) drink the large majority of all beer sold.  So when we see craft beer beginning to eclipse Bud Light in terms of search terms, this may be a better reflection of the actual number of people drinking craft beer than sales numbers.

Now have a look at generic search terms.  This is also interesting.  Among drinkers, the majority still prefer beer.  Wine is second and liquor third.  But search terms don't reflect consumption patterns.  Below are "wine" (red), "beer" (blue), and "liquor."  (I tried "whiskey," "bourbon," and "vodka" in place of liquor, but the trends were almost identical.  Also, essentially no one searches for "hard cider.")

What's more interesting is that "beer" is ticking up while wine has been in a slow decline.  (Also interesting: the annual end-of-year bumps that wine and liquor enjoy correspond to a drop in beer searches.)  This is harder to interpret, but worth a few minutes trying.  Theories? 

Last one.  This sort of speaks for itself.  I plugged in "Sierra Nevada Pale" (blue), "Lagunitas IPA" (red), "Sam Adams" (yellow?--colorblind), and that last one is "Angry Orchard."  No wonder AB InBev and MillerCoors jumped on the cider bandwagon, eh?

*Google searches are a proxy for interest--and therefore don't reflect reality perfectly.  Not everyone uses the internet, and those who do have idiosyncratic interests.  They're just Google searches, and it's easy to add meaning where none may be. 

1 comment:

  1. Wine was declining likely due to an income effect - wine in general is a more expensive beverage than beer. It reaches a bottom in what is arguably the largest economic downturn in decades... beer on the other hand is a cheaper substitute good.

    Of course, without much more data it is almost impossible to accurately speculate, but if I were to hazard a guess...