Last week, 27/7wallstreet.com put out a list of the 9 beers from large (or once large) brewers that saw a 30% or greater decline in sales between 2006 and 2011.
And they all have at least one thing in common, these beers in decline. They’re all bland watery domestics. The article points out that sales of craft beer have grown significantly over the same 5 years, so the issue isn’t necessarily that people don’t want to drink beer anymore.
Is Big Beer falling victim to the so-called foodie trend?
I wish, but the fact that the piece describes light beer as American beer lovers’ new “primary beer of choice,” indicates that people will still drink boring beer if there’s another incentive, like lower calories. I think what we’re seeing is big brands getting blindsided by a market trend (quality) that they couldn’t conceive of just a few years ago.
These giant companies had been pushing the same terrible crap on us for so long that they had convinced themselves that American beer drinkers actually liked the flavorless swill they were pumping out; so now they’re behind the curve. I think the reason they’ve been on top of the light beer trend is that people are drinking those beers because they’re less filling, not necessarily that they taste great.
So what? Why are you droning on and on about beer?
Two reasons. I’ll make these into a numbered list, because that’s what you do on a blog.
- I like beer. Beer tastes good.
- Branding reasons, that’s why.
A lot of drinkers have abandoned Big Beer over the last couple of decades, first, as imports became more widely available in the late 80s and early 90s. Then as the craft brewing revolution spread in the late 90s and early 2000s. They went where the flavor was, and several of these brewers have actually become quite large (Anchor Steam, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, New Belgium), without sacrificing the core that made their brand strong in the first place – making good beer.
Budweiser’s brand is that they’re ubiquitous. Sierra Nevada’s brand is that they’re delicious.
Apparently in the prehistoric past, Budweiser was actually pretty decent. Obvs that mythical Budweiser has long since given way to price-saving-flavor-sapping adjuncts, and a definition of quality that depends more on every bottle tasting exactly the same every time you order it, whether you’re bellying up to the bar in Seattle, Miami, Anchorage, or Arizona, rather than on it being flavorful and tasty. But what these larger craft brewers are demonstrating is that you don’t have to sacrifice quality for mass production and profitability (some other companies in other industries are proving this too – Smashburger was recently recognized by Inc. Magazine as one of the top ten small business job creators in the US by focusing on good business practices and good beef patties).
The takeaway for branders, especially in small business, is to focus on quality, whether you’re delivering a product or providing a service, and build your successful brand around that. If you market effectively without undermining the core of your brand, these successful, growing breweries show that the profits will follow.
Incidentally, Big Beer is slowly learning its lesson: Anheuser-Busch has introduced Shock Top, a Belgian-style ale that I would call crafty, that is, influenced by the craft brewers, but still bearing its giant corporate birthmarks (see also, MillerCoors’ Blue Moon), ie, not really that flavorful, but a step in the right direction.
Jumping the Snark
Milwaukee’s Best (Number 4 on the list) and described as being “brewed for a man’s taste,” has won a bunch of GABF awards. I guess I don’t really have any snark here. I just think it’s weird.