The year 2016 was a mixed bag for retail beer sales as a whole. That was the takeaway from a 2016-recap presentation given last week to Brewers Association members by Dan Wandel, senior vice president of the Beverage Alcohol Market Insights Group for IRI, a market research firm.
“An overwhelming majority of people I spoke to said, ‘Wow, are we glad 2016 is gone!'” Wandell said. “Particularly as it relates to beer, there’s a lot of agreement there.”
Beer overall saw what Wandell described as a “dramatic” slowdown in grocery-store sales as increased competition from non-beer alcohol bit into beer’s slice of the pie. Of course, grocery, convenience store and drugstore sales of beer are just one way consumers buy beer; that doesn’t take into account taproom sales, brewpubs, etc.
So, what were shoppers buying instead of beer? Wine.
“For the first time in many years, craft beer is not at the top of dollar sales growth in alcohol segments,” Wandel said. “Table wine [wine priced between $11-$15] was number one.”
He cites a few reasons for wine’s big year in 2016. More states loosened laws so that wine could be sold in the same types of stores as beer; more wine is being sold in cans, which he said appeals to Millennials (IRI tracks 30 canned wine brands, and their total dollar sales in grocery stores were up 159 percent over the previous year); and a wine brand even had the moxie to advertise during the Super Bowl for the first time in 30 years.
How is beer going to gain its share back? It needs to, perhaps, collectively work on convincing drinkers that beer is the best option when they’re in the alcohol aisle. That might mean putting aside debates over who’s craft, who’s not, etc., and focusing on drawing consumers to beer as a whole, Wandel suggested.
“As wine and spirits clearly are very focused on taking share within [the] beverage alcohol [sphere], are we fighting the right things?”