Why do I find this article interesting? Because it looks at craft beer from the point of the disinterested retailer instead of the craft beer advocate retailer. Convenience stores are concerned about selling product and turning over inventory. They are not in it to advocate for craft beer or to fight big beer. They are there to sell, sell, sell. This article does an excellent job of defining the challenges and the opportunities the changing retail beer landscape offers now.
This article is an honest and dispassionate look at how changing demographics, changing laws, and the increase in the number of available brands has changed the beer segment of convenience store sales.
I think craft beer people should read this articles and others like it in other trade magazines for two reasons. One, to remind them that while craft beer may be a calling and a passion for you, for some people it’s just business. Does your product move or doesn’t it? Another thing this article does is show the relationship between shifting demographics, changing alcohol laws, and branding (the story of the beer) and sales.
Everyone in craft beer hates seasonal creep. What is seasonal creep you may ask? It is when pumpkin beers come out in August and winter beers start appearing before Thanksgiving (we just kicked a keg of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration). Why does seasonal creep exist? The notion that people will only buy X amount of a seasonal beer so you want to be the first one out there. Brewers make these beers earlier and earlier because retailers demand it because retailers think consumers are demanding it.
The problem for retailers, distributors, and brewers is in craft beer tastes change fast and with no warning. Yes, you sold a lot of pumpkin beer last year. That doesn’t mean you will this year. People like the occasional pumpkin beer. People like the occasional pumpkin spiced latte. I predict the amount of pumpkin beer produced next year will drop precipitously. Why? My shelves have a good amount still sitting there and we just bought a case of an imperial pumpkin at a deep discount because the distributor still has pallets of it sitting in the warehouse.
People are fickle. That is a challenge for people who make and sell beer. It is a challenge that sometimes people in the craft beer world don’t always notice or appreciate. I don’t think brewers always understand that every time a bar buys a keg or a convenience store buys a case, they are taking a risk. Those retailers are betting that they can sell that beer at a profit in a certain amount of time.
One of the hardest thing for a craft brewer must be dealing with success. If you are successful that means all the energy and creativity you have put into brewing is paying off, but it also means your consumers want the thing that they like and not necessarily the other stuff. They don’t want you to be creative and interesting. They want that one beer you make that they love so much. Ask The Wooden Robot guys about Good Morning Vietnam.
Learning to give the people what they want while still making good, interesting, and unexpected beers is part of the business you don’t learn winning homebrew awards.