April 7 is National Beer Day in the U.S., commemorating the signing of the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized the sale of beer on March 22, 1933. And as if they needed any more reason to do so, adults across the country will be raising a glass of their favorite malt beverage to celebrate.
In the U.S., beer is a massive category, with retail sales totaling more than $34 billion for the year ended Jan. 28, 2017. Despite its large size, however, sales in the category have slowed in recent years, as beer, flavored malt beverages and cider posted sales growth of just 2% in the last year, down from 4% two years ago. That growth, however, has been primarily driven by dollar sales rather than volume, as Americans have purchased about the same amount of beer each year for the past five years.
As the growth of the beer category slows, so do the number of market entrants. Across the total beer category, there were just over 2,000 new product entrants to the market in 2016, down more than 23% from two years ago. Given the size of the U.S. beer market, myriad products are already available to consumers, which means manufacturers, brewers and retailers have to develop that special something to stand out and help drive sales.
Up until recently, the real opportunity in the beer category has been in the craft sub-category. Specifically, dollar sales growth in the craft realm ranged between just over 15% to just over 18% from 2013 through early 2016, well above the 1.3%-3.5% posted by the overall beer category (excluding flavored malt beverages, ciders and seltzers). For the year ended Jan. 28, 2017, however, the craft engine slowed significantly, with dollar sales growth of just 2.9% in Nielsen-measured off-premise channels.
But despite the now-crested craft wave across U.S., there’s no denying that the domestic premium, super premium and import realm represents a tsunami in comparison. Combined, these sub-categories accounted for more than $23 billion in sales for the year ended Jan. 28, 2017. Sales in the domestic premium space have been sliding, however, while sales among domestic super premium and imports are on the rise.
Just like the media landscape, the beer market is brimming with choice and diversity. And with overall beer consumption relatively flat over the past five years, flavor, style, branding and innovation couldn’t be more important.