2020 Midyear Craft Beer Trends

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The first half of 2020 has been like no other, both for the world at large, and at a much smaller level, for the craft brewing community.

The Brewers Association (BA) has been measuring those differences at various points since mid-March, but now that we’re halfway through the year, we’d love to get a more comprehensive view via our midyear survey.

The survey is simple: you just need to know your volume or trend versus the same period last year. We’ve also asked brewers to estimate what you think your second half of the year might look like, with the realization that there is a huge amount of uncertainty.

Here’s a short recap of the data we’ve gathered so far, interspersed with some other data sets.

Trends for the First Half of 2020

The first two months of the year looked to be roughly on pace with 2019. Scan data showed BA craft roughly flat, perhaps a bit weaker than the same period in 2019, though January and February are typically the two slowest selling months of the year. At the same time, at-the-brewery sales, from brewery growth statistics and Google Search data, suggested another year of growth was in order.

Every data set I have seen shows this changing during the week ending March 8, which, looking back, was a transition week to very different numbers the weeks of March 15 and 22. Here are a few data points:

Data Source/ChannelPrior TrendWeek of March 8 March 9-22
BA Craft Scan (IRI Group)+0.3%+4.9%+29.8%
Google Search “Brewery Near Me”+39.0%-2.0%-72.0%
Opportunity Insights Consumer Spending in Accommodation/Food Service-1.4%-4.4%-22.8%
Open Table Reservation Traffic +1.4%-4.4%-59.5%

These various data channels show different levels of change and in different directions, but all show that starting the week of March 8, and then rapidly accelerating the weeks of March 15 and 22, U.S. consumers changed, and the economy with them.

The BA conducted our first impact survey during the second of those two weeks. Breweries were already seeing the effects and anticipating a large impact, with a majority having slowed or stopped production, and expecting layoffs.

The next period, the depths of the economic slowdown, lasted from around mid-March through mid-April, with some weak signs of improvement through early to mid-May. From March 18 through April 21, BA craft boomed in scan, searches for “brewery near me” cratered (26% of the year before average, or a decline of 84% against what had been a rise of almost +40%), total consumer spending on accommodations and food services via credit card data stayed down more than 60%, and in person restaurant traffic was virtually non-existent (average reservation decline of greater than 99%). It was during the middle of this period that the BA conducted our second impact survey, and it captured the economic devastation and general negative sentiment that existed in many parts of the economy. The survey very accurately captured the larger economic numbers, with off-premise packaged beer up, distributed draught virtually non-existent, and at-the-brewery sales somewhere in between, with a bit of to-go keeping the numbers slightly less negative than for sit down restaurants.

From there, some consumers adjusted and started feeling more comfortable reentering the world, bringing a slow return to sales, with high levels of variation by place and demographics. This return largely took place the second half of May and throughout June, depending on what part of the economy you are looking at and where. Data from BeerBoard showed only 16% of locations open and pouring beer May 8-10, a number that had risen to 84% by June 19-21.

Throughout this rise, however, there have been steady signs that all is not returning to normal. Nielsen CGA’s survey of on-premise consumers from June 19-21 found that only 36% have been out to eat in the past two weeks, with only 11% having gone for a drinking occasion. Pre-COVID, the dining number was 82% at least once in two weeks. At the same time, the off-premise has remained elevated even as the on-premise has reopened, with BA craft sales up 16.7% by volume for the four weeks ending June 21 (Source: IRI Group, MULO+C, Total U.S.).

Want more insights like this? BA members have access to the Nielsen CGA On-Premise Knowledge Center. Find the link to access it here.

Our third survey, conducted at the end of May, perhaps captured the mixed messages of this tepid recovery. Breweries were on average a bit more optimistic, but with large variations. The reasons for optimism and pessimism also varied widely, suggesting a range of local and individual business outcomes.

Entering a New Phase for the Back Half of 2020

In the last weeks, as cases have once again spiked, but in new places and with different demographics, it feels that we are perhaps entering a fourth phase. What direction this phase will push economic activity remains to be seen. As with previous stages, this isn’t just an economic question. I’ve heard economists describe this downturn as a “supply-led” recession, but it’s not really in the way we typically think about supply. The idea that restaurants can’t supply you with a meal without health risks isn’t the same notion of supply you learn in Econ 101. The economic question is tied up tightly with public health, consumer psychology, not to mention government fiscal and monetary policy.

To truly recover, we need to solve (or at least contain) the public health issues, restore consumer confidence in reentering social life, not to mention repair the gaps in demand resulting from laid off workers and shuttered businesses. Solving all three of these pieces seems unlikely in the short term.

More likely is that we are entering a period of turbulent economic activity, with reduced spending levels that vary significantly place-to-place, and shifts in spending that will persist for some time. The IGM Forum and FiveThirtyEight describe the shape of this economic outlook as a “reverse radical.”

To close – the Brewers Association will continue tracking small brewer performance to better tell your story and advocate on your behalf. It’s become clear to nearly everyone that COVID is going to have an impact for months, if not years to come, and we’re committed to doing our best to help small brewers understand the changes in the economy, consumer behavior, and our industry as these challenging times unfold.

The next step in that is our annual midyear survey, so please take a few minutes to fill it out as you are able.