After years of growth, the American craft beer industry continues its path of consolidation with a still increasing number of breweries but a decline in independent craft packaged sales, according to results of a midyear survey unveiled today by the Brewers Association.
The increasing number of breweries amid declining sales intensifies the economic pressure on an industry that is already weakened by years of pandemic and high input and increasing borrowing costs. The craft brewing sector has undergone significant growth and transformation in recent decades, with changes accelerating in recent years, encompassing factors such as a competitive distribution landscape, escalating expenses, evolving consumer tastes, and supply chain disruptions.
The survey results are on par with 2022 annual trends (inside.beer, 14.12.2022), with the industry entering into a maturing era with a low single-digit decline of -2% in the market. In breaking down the distribution channels, according to Circana scan data, independent craft packaged sales were down -3% year-over-year but have improved since the first quarter of 2023 when they were down -9%. Distributors and retailers have been reducing their focus on distributed craft and searching for growth in other pockets, but there are signs that the worst reductions may be in the past.
Reported at-the-brewery sales were healthier than distributed craft sales, favoring hospitality-focused businesses. While Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau data suggests a small decline in keg sales, which have been trending down since before COVID-19, onsite appears to be up, both in the midyear survey and select point of sale (POS) data. Further illustrated in the Brewers Association’s Annual Production Report, craft beer sales growth was stronger than volume growth due to pricing, share shift to smaller brewers—who are more likely to sell onsite and via distributed draught—as well as the continued channel shift back to on-premise, which has a higher average retail value.
The active craft brewery number increased from 9,119 in June 2022 to 9,336 as of June 2023, with the total brewery number up from 9,242 to 9,456. In this maturing market, explosive growth from years past has tapered out, but openings continue to slightly outpace closings, and brewers are finding success in niches where they can succeed.
Overall, craft brewers continue to face economic headwinds on both business and consumer fronts. From a business perspective, borrowing costs continue to rise, and while input cost increases have stabilized, they remain elevated over previous levels. Meanwhile, mounting evidence shows inflation eroding consumers’ buying capacity and diminishing their savings, and the impending restart of student loan payments this fall could impact consumer purchasing power during the back half of the year.
Bart Watson, Chief Economist at the Brewers Association, echoes a sense of optimism based on the midyear survey findings. He emphasizes the necessity for fresh ideas and strategies to navigate the current slow-growth environment. Watson underscores the enduring demand for craft beer and highlights abundant opportunities for growth across new channels, occasions, and customer segments.