It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Is the idea of a go-to beer outdated? Is brand loyalty dead? Read enough about beer sales
and customer behavior, and you’ll see the word “promiscuous” more than a few dozen times. It’
s the preferred term to describe beer drinkers in 2019, who, it’s often said, are relentless in the
pursuit of the latest trend, the freshest specialty release, the next new Untappd check-in. With
more than 7,000 breweries in the U.S.—compared to 49 in 1977—producing multiple brands of
beers, there are unfathomably more beer choices than before. Folks like us never have to
drink the same beer twice. I can see you smiling at that, Bill.
The fact is that craft brewers, have seen some of their regular customers move away from their
usual selections as they’re chasing the next new choice,and craft brewers have no one to
blame but themselves. They created this environment with their exaltation—echoed year after
year—to try something different, explore new beers, seek out innovation. Craft beer was built
on the idea of choice and new flavors. And there's nothing wrong with that..
Americans’ beer consumption has dipped slightly over the past decade as the number of
breweries has increased, so it's clear to me that the consumer is probably buying less of their
favorite beer than they would have years ago. The results of this can be seen in the form of
more crowded beer shelves.
I think most shoppers are like me in that I often don’t go to the store with a specific beer in
mind.. So when bars and bottle shops provide us with new options that’s what beer drinkers
want. A bar with a steady draft lineup these days risks being labeled boring or out of date.
Where drinkers once looked forward to seasonal offerings like Oktoberfest lagers or holidays
stouts cycling through every few months, the pace has accelerated to the point that beer bar
customers now expect to see new choices every few days. And I admit, that's me.
I have brand loyalty in that I often look for something new from breweries I've enjoyed in the
past. That however doesn't mean I'm not going to try something new from a brewery I've never
heard of. Change and Innovation is the strength of craft beer. Long may it be so!
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time!
Hello Gina -
I agree with you (did you faint at that?) in that we're the era of “rotation nation,”. One
consequence of that you didn't mention is one species is especially vulnerable: the flagship
beer. A brewery’s flagship, its year-round, core beer, is usually an easy-drinking classic like
Sam Adams Boston Lager or Anchor Steam. The upside of flagships is that they’re often
revered, consistent, familiar. But one thing they’re certainly not is new. Threats to flagships from
specialty and limited-release beers seem so dire these days
Think about it Gina. Flagship beers are the beers that helped kick off most craft drinkers’
appreciation of good beer. And while those beers might seem old news to some of us today,
keep in mind that there’s a new generation of drinkers turning 21 every day. If bars and bottle
shops ignore those classic, approachable beers in favor of only boozy double IPAs or esoteric
barrel-aged sours, they risk alienating drinkers just getting their feet wet.
I'm sometime concerned that a constant focus on innovation caters only to the people who are
already heavily interested in craft beer. Assuming that customers are only want experimental,
boldly flavored beers means craft breweries could lose sight of potential new customers who
prefer something a little simpler, a little less intense. There is a place for that gateway classic.
Let's nott pronounce brewery loyalty dead just yet, Gina. While allegiances are less
straightforward than they once were I think they do still exist. As I see it, a brewery being local
matters much more than ever before, as drinkers develop a relationship with that brewery based
on visits to the taproom or seeing the beer at events. That’s why some small and midsize
breweries have recently scaled back their distribution to fewer states to focus on their home turf.
Now if there are allegiances to certain brands, it’s always local breweries
Loyalty to a local brewery doesn’t mean a customer will buy that brand of beer 100 % of the
time. But it might make them more likely to seek out what’s new from that brewery, or to order
the local IPA over one that’s brewed out of state. Many of the people we know are very loyal to
styles than particular breweries—hence the “What IPAs do you have on tap?” question we've
heard people ask bartenders all the time. That would explain why breweries are rolling out
multiple versions of styles that have done well for them.
It was pretty easy 25 years ago to find a brand that you liked and trusted which is not true today
but I don’t think people have changed, I think it’s just taking longer to sift through the multitude
of choices to find your favorites, And when I hear a brewer complain about all of this I want to
say too bad. Your job may now a little harder but don't blame we consumers. We know what we
want. We're just tasting everything to find out exactly what that is.
Here's looking at you Gina