What Do Surveys Tell Us about Beer (and What Should We Learn from Them)?

As we celebrate National Beer Day, let’s look at what surveys tell us about beer compared to the other adult beverage categories. Survey results can be skewed toward any number of biases, but they can also indicate important trends. For example, when the title of the press release is Beer Tops List of Beverage of Choice, But Wine Sees Gains in Popularity, it is certainly going to get my attention. The Harris Poll promoted in the press release was conducted online between January 18–20, 2017 among 2,148 U.S. adults (age 21 and over). Since 1963, according to the press release, the Harris Poll is one of the longest-running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S.

Items of interest from the 2017 Harris Poll include:

  • For nearly four in 10 regular drinkers (U.S. adults age 21+ who drink alcohol several times a year or more), beer is the beverage of choice (38%), followed by wine (31%) and spirits/liquor (28%).
  • Wine is gaining drinkers: Many of today’s wine drinkers (ages 31+) had a different top pick a decade ago and say they were instead drinking liquor/spirits (26%) or beer (21%).

How about Gallup’s Consumption Habits Survey? Results for this particular Gallup Poll were based on telephone interviews conducted July 13-17, 2016, with a random sample of 1,023 adults age 18 and older from all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. The press release, released in August 2016, included this beer-bullish title: Beer Reigns as Americans’ Preferred Alcoholic Beverage. Among the results: 43% of Americans who drink alcohol said they prefer beer, 32% said wine, and 20% said liquor.

The 43% who said they drink beer most often is the highest number since 2002, when 44% said the same. At several points since 2005, wine and beer have essentially tied as the preferred alcoholic beverage, but in the last three years beer has held firmly as the top choice.

Other insights from the 2016 Gallup Consumption Survey include:

  • Gallup points out large differences between genders when it comes to beverage choice, with half of female drinkers preferring wine, based on combined data from 2010 through 2016, while beer and liquor tie as their next-favored beverage (23%).
  • 54% of male drinkers name beer as their preferred drink, followed by liquor (22%) and wine (18%).

So what does this mean? It means two major surveys confirmed that beer is the number one adult beverage. Seems legit, but what does the data show us?

We know beer remains on top with the highest dollar sales for the U.S. beverage alcohol category. Wine is not even half of beer sales. Amazing, right? However, recent on-premises data showed that spirits are more than having their moment in the sun at restaurants, while both wine and beer were down slightly in 2016.1

Just like beer, the wine and spirits categories are always soul searching. Brewers must continue to push to remain consumers’ top choice. Full-flavored offerings from independent craft brewers have shifted, disrupted, and advanced beer. How can beer retain the long-term attention of an aging population while at the same time attracting or maintaining interest from millennials, females, and a further diverse group of appreciators?

What we can and should know is that the U.S. is absolutely a beer-loving nation first and foremost. The sales numbers prove this. We also have an advantage over the other two categories as the beverage of moderation (lower ABV). As well, beer brings so much to the dinner table and in pairing. Chefs and the on-premises are starting to take notice.

Flavor, innovation, quality and consistency, pairing, and yes, marketing and presentation all will continue to play a role in appreciators’ minds when purchasing. These attributes should continue to be top of mind for breweries looking to advance themselves and the beverage of beer.

1Source: Nielsen CGA on premise data – megacategory, volume, value, 9L EQ, rolling 52 w/e 12/03/2016 vs YA

Julia is craft beer program director at the Brewers Association and publisher of CraftBeer.com. She is a homebrewer, a BJCP beer judge, Certified Cicerone®, co-author of the CraftBeer.com Beer & Food Course and co-author of Beer Pairing (Voyageur Press). In her role at the BA she serves as an educator and as a spokesperson for the association.

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