Brewers Association Reports that Craft Beer Market Growth Steady thru Mid-July

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Midway through 2019 the volume of growth for small and independent U.S. craft brewers has remained steady at 4 percent. This according to data released today by the national trade group Brewers Association (BA).

Their chief economist, Bart Watson, in a press release, characterized craft brewers’ low- to mid-single-digit craft brewer volume growth as “a similar pattern” to recent years. “The majority of growth continues to come from microbreweries, taprooms, and brewpubs, whereas the distribution landscape remains more challenging for regional craft brewers,” he said.

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While demand for independent craft beer “continues to increase,” Watson added, that demand is “at levels that make it difficult for all breweries to grow simultaneously. This is a sign of a maturing market that will likely continue in the coming years.”

At the mid-point of last year, the BA reported that craft volume had grown of 5 percent. That number eventually settled at 4 percent growth or about 1 million barrels for the entirety of 2018.

When sharing its annual mid-year growth figures the non-profit Brewers Association also announced there were 7,480 craft breweries in operation through June 30. That total was up from 6,464 breweries at the same time last year.

Last year the BA reported that 7,346 breweries (2,594 brewpubs, 4,521 microbreweries and 231 regional beer companies) were in operation at the end of 2018. Together, those combined companies produced 25.9 million barrels of beer. That number was up nearly 800,000 barrels from 2017.

Watson explained the data further in a blog post on the organization’s website. He found that regional craft breweries (those companies making more than 15,000 barrels a year) are on pace to post “a slight decline in production” by the end of 2019. Watson went on to say that growth rates for regional craft breweries are averaging about a point lower than they did last year.

“There is still plenty of variation, though, as well as brewers who are growing faster than they did in 2018,” he wrote. “However, those growth stories are offset by brewers losing volume faster or seeing growth turn into declines.”

The mid-year data was better for microbreweries (those making fewer than 15,000 barrels) and brewpubs, which are growing at a slightly faster rate than last year. Watson stated that excluding new beer companies and breweries making fewer than 1,000 barrels, microbreweries and brewpubs are growing 2.5 points faster than last year.

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But Watson also wrote that “a slightly lower percentage” of microbreweries and brewpubs are growing when compared to 2018. However, he did say the “vast majority” of microbreweries are growing, “and many at rates stronger than last year”.

Watson summarized the data by saying that 2019’s growth rate looks much like 2018 “but with growth increasingly tilted toward the tail, even beyond 2018.”

Lastly, Watson also shared that he expects at-the-brewery sales to grow about 13 percent (about 400,000 barrels), to as much as 3.5 million barrels, in 2019.

So what’s driving craft’s volume growth? In mid-July, Watson parsed scan data from market research firm IRI and found that BA-defined craft volume was up 1.8 percent and outperforming the overall craft (+1.3 percent) and total beer (+0.3 percent) through June 30.

In that column, he wrote noted that craft wouldn’t be growing without new brands, which accounted for 4.5 percent of 2019 volume.

“Without their contributions, craft would be down 2.8 percent (or .5 percent if you just look at the existing brands),” he wrote.

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