There’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.
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:
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?
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac