Shifting Demographics Among Craft Drinkers

What are the demographics of craft lovers and how have those changed in recent years? As craft beer has grown, the total population of craft drinkers has certainly grown too, but has it diversified? How? Where?

Before we delve into these questions, remember that how we define our scope of inquiry shifts the answers we get. Is a craft drinker someone who drinks craft a few times a year? Someone who drinks it weekly? There isn’t a single correct answer. Similarly, although I’m going to talk in terms of national demographics, state or local demographics are going to vary a lot, both based on the population demographics in those places, and the particular craft culture that has emerged locally. I’ll highlight some of these variations as we get deeper into the analysis, but I want to be clear up front that there isn’t a single correct lens to examine these questions. Finally, any time you are working with demographic data, particularly on race/ethnicity, it is worth remembering that many of the categories we use are constructs – perhaps useful ones – but other than age, demographic categories aren’t always clean and often rely on self-identification data.

Overall Craft Drinker Demographics

Let’s start really broadly. If we use “at least several times a year” as our standard, around 40% of the 21+ population is now a craft drinker (source: Nielsen – Harris on Demand). That’s been going up about one to two percentage points a year. The U.S. 21+ population has been going up by ~2.5M legal drinking age adults in recent years, so that means craft is getting a slightly bigger bump than that every year (since the category gets ~40% of those new 2.5M + 1-2% more of the total ~240M drinkers). That’s likely averaged around 4-5 million new craft drinkers a year using a “several times a year” drinker definition.

Percentage of Craft Beer Drinkers (Several Times A Year Or More Often) Among 21+ Pop
2015 2016 2017 2018
Source: Percentages are based on several waves of data from surveys fielded online by The Harris Poll between 2015 and 2018
35% 37% 38% 40%

If we look at more frequent craft consumption, not surprisingly, the numbers drop. Scarborough (another division of Nielsen) estimated that in 2017, 7.3% of 21+ adults had been a craft drinker in the last month. That’s about 17.5M people in craft’s core.

Gender and Craft Drinker Demographics

Next, let’s look at gender. Taking the broad, “at least several times a year” view, craft drinkers are 31.5% female and 68.5% male in 2018 (source: Nielsen Harris on Demand). That’s pretty much the same as monthly, where Scarborough found 31.1% female and 68.9% male. The main positive in these numbers is that they are improving. In 2015, the same Harris Poll found “several times a year” craft drinkers were 29.1% female and 70.9% male. That’s 2% points in shift toward females, in a three year period where total craft went up ~5% points in the country. When you add that all up, it suggests that from 2015 to 2018, craft has added ~14.7 million drinkers, of which a bit below half (~6.6M) were women. If that data is correct, craft is now onboarding men and women into the category at roughly their percentages in the population. It’s not quite 50/50, and it will take decades of the same pattern to get closer to parity, but it’s a start.

Want to check that math?

In 2015, there were 234,380,464 21+ adults (Census Bureau) and 35% drank craft beer (Nielsen – Harris on Demand). That’s .35*234,380,464 = 82,033,162 craft drinkers. In 2018, we’re estimating that at 241,876,792 21+ and 40% (Harris), so 96,750,717, or 14,717,554 more than in 2015. For female craft drinkers, it’s gone from .291 * 82.0 M = 23,871,650 to .315 * 96.8M = 30,476,476, or +6.6M (45% of the total) from 2015.

Although I don’t have time series by local markets, looking at local market data, it’s pretty clear that much of this shift is being driven in particular places. Looking at individual markets, Portland Oregon’s craft drinker breakdown is 52.7% female and 47.3% male (source: Scarborough). The graph below shows the percent of craft drinkers in the 30-day Scarborough data who were female by different defined market areas (DMAs), with a range from 7.4% to 52.7%.

Female Craft Drinkers by Defined Market Area

Market (# Ranked by % of Craft Drinkers who are female)

[MEMBERS ONLY: Access full data by all 77 markets]

These markets represent 83.4% of the total craft drinking population, including 4.44 million women (who drank craft in last 30 days). There are opportunities to grow the craft market on both ends of the spectrum. If the markets where female drinkers are currently below 1/3 of all craft drinkers were at 1/3 female drinkers, that’s more than 640,000 more women in those markets drinking craft every 30 days. If the markets that are above 1/3 but below 1/2 got to 50-50, that’s another 540,000 every 30 days.

Race/Ethnicity and Craft Drinker Demographics

Changes in craft’s demographics by race/ethnicity are less positive in recent years. Although the data show a growth in minority craft drinkers in absolute terms, the changes over time show less movement in percentage terms. In the 2015 Harris poll data, non-Hispanic whites were 86.3% of craft drinkers, with 13.7% coming from other races/ethnicities. In 2018, the percent white dropped to 85.5%, with non-white increasing slightly to 14.5%. Lining that up with the total population/craft drinker data, that means that from 2015-2018, 81% of new craft drinkers were white, and 19% came from minority groups. Given that only 68.7% of the 21+ US population is non-Hispanic white, that’s not progress. Minority craft drinkers are growing, but only because the total population of craft drinkers is growing, not because craft drinkers are getting more diverse along racial lines – as we saw, the gender trends are more positive.

The 30-day consumption data show more of the same. Nielsen Spectra data from August 2014 showed 79.9% white. In 2017 data, that percentage hadn’t budged. It was 79.9%. There is clearly work to be done in marketing the amazing beers and brands of small and independent brewers to different communities across the U.S. I won’t pretend to have the answer as to how, but look for more resources from the Brewers Association to help diversify your customer base and organization in the future.

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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