Pardon the sensationalist headline, but the new Gallup alcohol consumption poll numbers are out and with them I’ll bet we see a horde of news articles about how much better those numbers look in 2014 than they did in 2013. Although I do think 2014 has been/is a great year for beer, here’s why you should ignore those articles.
Before going further, let me underline that I’m excited that beer did well. Like any poll, a higher number is better than a lower number, but it’s important to differentiate between what polls can and can’t tell us. For those who remember the last Gallup poll (beer did poorly in 2013), this is basically the same thing Julia Herz and I said last year. Without just copying and pasting, the basic points are pretty much the same:
- This type of survey data provides little evidence of what is really going on with consumers in the beer category
- Aggregating beer data misses highly divergent sub-categories, like craft (up 19.7% YTD in IRI Group figures) versus sub-premium (down -2.4% YTD)
- Regardless of poll numbers, beer remains the dominant beverage alcohol choice of Americans, measured in volume or dollar sales
- And most importantly, you shouldn’t extrapolate too much from any single poll number
On this last point, I will quote directly from last year:
“Beer has remained largely static in the Gallup poll since 2004. If we assume a period average since then of 39% (average based on ten years of data), every year from 2004-2013 falls within the poll’s margin of error (+/- 3%), including 2013’s 36% [or 2014's 41%]. This means that statistically, it’s pretty hard to separate 2013 from any of those years. Comparing year-on-year polls doesn’t make a ton of sense (unless beer moves outside the 36% to 42% range), even if it does generate good headlines.”
This is just as true in 2014 as it was in 2013. Here’s the data to prove it. Beer has stayed within +/- 3% of 39% every year since 2004.
None of this should take away from the basic fact that Gallup poll numbers going up are better than Gallup poll numbers going down, but either way they should be taken with a large grain of salt (preferably in a nice Gose beer). With over 3,000 breweries in the country fueling a resurgent beer culture, you don’t need a poll to tell you that 2014 has been a great year for beer.
PS – that 11 million number? It can be directly extrapolated from the Gallup poll. 313.9 million Americans * 71.8% 21+ adults * 0.9% population growth * 4% more drinkers * 5% more choosing beer = 11 million more people choosing beer as their preferred beverage versus last year (59.7 million versus 48.7 million). Do I believe it? Nope.