Brewery Visits Grow Beer: What Can the Whole Industry Learn?

The beer category has been in a bit of a rut lately. Per capita beer consumption has been steadily decreasing for a decade.

Sources: Brewers Association, Beer Institute, US Census Bureau

There have been lots of articles and presentations in recent years about the causes of this decline (demographics and prices are two big ones) as well as some potential solutions. For example, the Brewers Association’s (BA) Julia Herz has been a forceful advocate for the three W’s – women, wellness, and winning at retail.

To that list I want to add a fourth… visiting breweries!

How Brewery Visits Affect Consumer Drinking Habits

New research conducted by Nielsen’s CGA division during their bi-annual On Premise User Survey (NCGA-OPUS) suggests that beer drinkers who are visiting breweries are drinking more beer, whereas those that aren’t are drinking less.

See the data for yourself:

Q: How has your level of beer drinking changed in the last year?

(Asked to those who have visited a brewery, brewpub or taproom in the last year)

Answer Total US 21 – 34 35 -54 55+ Female Male
I drink significantly less beer than I did last year 6% 5% 5% 6% 8% 4%
I drink somewhat less beer than I did last year 15% 12% 13% 20% 14% 16%
My beer drinking levels haven’t changed 50% 32% 53% 60% 48% 52%
I drink somewhat more beer than I did last year 19% 30% 19% 13% 21% 19%
I drink significantly more beer than I did last year 10% 21% 10% 2% 9% 10%
Sample size: 1,663 413 649 601 675 988

Q: How has your level of beer drinking changed in the last year?

(Asked to those who haven’t visited a brewery, brewpub or taproom in the last year)

Answer Total US 21 – 34 35 -54 55+ Female Male
I drink significantly less beer than I did last year 11% 9% 10% 13% 13% 10%
I drink somewhat less beer than I did last year 17% 12% 16% 21% 19% 16%
My beer drinking levels haven’t changed 48% 33% 46% 59% 48% 48%
I drink somewhat more beer than I did last year 14% 25% 15% 6% 13% 15%
I drink significantly more beer than I did last year 10% 21% 12% 1% 8% 11%
Sample size: 4,304 985 1,644 1,675 1,716 2,588

Since there is a lot of data there, I’ll summarize. Of those who visited a brewery, 29% said they drank more beer, versus 21% who drank less, a net of +8%. For those who didn’t visit a brewery, 24% said they drank more and 28% said they drank less, a net of -4%. Weight those based on their percent of beer drinkers, and you get -1%, or basically beer’s year-to-date trend.

It’s also interesting to note that the positive trends for brewery visitors cut across gender, whereas the OPUS data suggests that among non-visitors, women leaving the beer category is a primary source of volume loss.

Net Change in beer drinking (total more – total less) Total US Female Male
Brewery visitors 8% 8% 8%
Non-visitors -4% -11% 1%

Now, as someone who cares about good analysis, I won’t pretend that this means going to a brewery is causing people to drink more beer. The causality might run the other way: people who are drinking more beer might be seeking out breweries (makes sense, right?). Or there might be some other variable that explains both trends (going to breweries and drinking more beers = increasing income, for example).

That said, from this data, I think it’s pretty clear that getting people into breweries is a good thing for the beer industry, or more broadly, that everyone in beer should not just support brewery visits, but actively try to re-create the reasons people go to breweries throughout the three-tier system.

What Does This Mean For Distributors

An 8% growth among 28% of beer drinkers (the percent who visited a brewery) isn’t a small number. Think about this: 8%*28%*200M barrels = ~4.5M barrels of beer. So if these beer lovers are drinking a typical amount, their beer consumption is going up far more than at-the-brewery sales alone, suggesting once again that brewery visits spill out into the wider market and help build brand beer (as well as the brands of the breweries they are visiting).

What Does This Mean For Retailers

There is plenty of evidence that smart operators can capture the growing volume of these beer lovers as well. In fact, the top three reasons consumers say they visit breweries have nothing to do with them being a brewery! They are things that any retailer can do. They are:

#1 – Ability to sample various beers (e.g. flights of beer)

#2 – To learn about different beers

#3 – I know the beer will be fresh

(Source, Nielsen Craft Insights Panel, 2018)

Variety, experience, and fresh quality beer. Add in flavor and you have pretty much the top reasons beer lovers drink craft in the first place.

To sum this all up, although there are lots of places beer can improve in order to regrow the category, many of the answers are right in front of us, with breweries showing the way. Give beer lovers the variety, experience, and quality they are looking for and the volume will follow.

Breweries, like this post? The data presented here, like many of the statistics on this website, were supported by member dues. If you aren’t a member, consider joining today.

Bart Watson, Chief Economist for the Brewers Association, is a stats geek, beer lover, and Certified Cicerone®. He holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where in addition to his dissertation, he completed a comprehensive survey of Bay Area brewpubs one pint at a time. You can follow him on Twitter @BrewersStats.

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