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Craft Beer Style Preferences Start and End With the Consumer
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Craft Beer Style Preferences Start and End With the Consumer

Looking for something different in the beer aisle? Chances are pretty high that you won’t have to look too hard. That’s because of countless new options that aren’t just tweaking traditional styles—they’re creating new ones. And then on top of that, by further branching out with offerings like hard ciders, root beers, sodas and seltzers, brewers are no longer limiting themselves to traditional hops and barley.

The upside for retailers is that the massive variety provides new opportunities to drive sales—an appealing prospect that can bring incremental revenue to some of the more traditional segments of the beer category. At the same time, everyone – brewers, distributors, retailers, and consumers – don’t have infinite capacity for more and more. The trick then, is knowing which varieties consumers are thirsty for, particularly as the arena continues to widen.

It’s commonly known that beer is favored more by men than women, but some of the styles that have gained the most ground over the past year have proven to be more attractive to females than in the past. That’s not to say that beer is falling out of favor with men, however, as men account for close to two-thirds of overall beer consumption. But the craft sub-category is steadily finding ways to broaden its appeal to adult beverage drinkers who have historically opted for something other than a can of traditional lager.

In a recent English-language survey conducted by Harris Poll from Nov. 20-30, 2015, males responded with a higher preference for 75% of 37 different craft styles. A select group of varieties, however, were more preferable among women than men, including the seven in the chart below. And all but one of them (Hefeweizen) is among the top 20 growth performers.

In terms of growth, the herb/spice sub-category ran away with the show last year, generating annual sales growth of 375%. Within the herb/spice sub-category, ginger beer is the main growth driver. Notably, women are 55% more likely to prefer herb/spice brews than men. The most preferable style among women? Sour ale/American wild ale, which females find more preferable by 75%. And while these styles overall aren’t the biggest craft sellers, 20% more women than men preferred blonde ale/golden ale – a significant style in overall size.

With the big gains that ginger beer is driving, it’s no wonder that select brewers are thinking about other creative adult beverage options, including hard root beer and soda. While the pool of brands in this arena is currently small, hard root beer and soda generated more than $250 million in dollar sales during the 52 weeks ended March 26, 2016 within Nielsen measured channels. And when we look at consumption preferences by gender, female-led households showed a higher propensity to purchase these newer flavored products in comparison to their purchasing of more traditional beers.

But gender isn’t the only factor driving adult beverage preference. Age and location play a role as well. For example, our recent craft beer survey found that consumers 35-44 are the most adventurous in terms of variety of preferred style preferences, followed next by consumers between 44 and 54, and after that the younger 21-34 year old drinking group. In terms of craft style preference, amber lager and pale ale scored highest across all age groups.

Looking at preference by region, however, highlights wider palate diversity. Craft beer drinkers in the Midwest have the widest range of style preferences, but 50% still say amber lagers are among their favorite styles. Craft fans in the West have the second-widest range of style preference, and 50% say pale ale is among their favorite styles. Craft beer drinkers in the Northeast have the narrowest range of style preferences, just slightly edging out their counterparts in the South.

So the key to success in the craft arena, just like any other, is knowing the consumer inside and out and meet their needs.