by Luke Tubia
In the last 10 years, craft beer consumption in America has become less of a niche and more of the norm. This past Spring, the Brewers Association, along with the Nielson company, conducted a national survey of craft beer drinkers to determine why craft beer is becoming the popular choice as well as what factors contribute to a consumer picking up a craft beer instead of a macro-brewed domestic or imported beverage.
The survey was conducted with a sample of 1,000 beer drinkers from all over the United States and was broken up into categories that distinguish between those in the survey who drink a craft beverage daily, at least once a week, several times a week, several times a month, at least once a month and finally several times a year. Within these categories the survey concluded that not only was craft beer sales up more than 17-percent in 2014, beer drinkers are now searching out craft beer more frequently than any other ‘adult beverage.’
This increase is not simply based on the fact that craft beer has a more distinctive taste, but also on several other factors including availability, connection with the brewers, local ingredients and even packaging options.
The Brewers Association and Nielsen survey titled CIP — Craft Beer Insights Poll —found that 52 percent of craft beer drinkers value a locally made product above all else. This factor reinforces the idea that craft drinkers are emotional and passionate about the products they buy, especially when it comes to local availability, a craft drinker is more likely to pick up a six-pack from his or her local brewery sooner than one from across the country simply because of a sense of local pride.
While local brews are heavily favored, 37 percent of those surveyed say they like to buy brands they may have never heard of as long as these come from brewers that utilize certain key words such as ‘small, independent company, small batch production and handcrafted.’ Drinkers surveyed also stated that packaging options like six-packs, 22 oz. bottles, ‘create your own six-packs’ and cans give the consumer more freedom to sample a new brand of craft beer. The highest among these categories being the single serving can or bottle and the next most important being the ‘create your own six-pack’ with a high percentage of all categories surveyed placing importance on these two packaging choices.
When the craft drinker takes advantage of these sampling options, the survey found that more than 25 percent often follow up this sample purchase with a larger package such as a 12 pack.
Where craft beer is available to the consumer has also played a vital role in the growth of the industry. The CIP survey concluded that over 80 percent chose to drink craft beer the most frequently at home or a friend’s home, but when broken down further, discovered that 80 percent of weekly craft drinkers do so in a restaurant or bar.
Beer tasting has been a huge boon to the industry as well with over half of respondents saying they attend beer-tasting events at a store, restaurant, brewery, festival or local event at least once a year. Additionally, nearly 40 percent say they attend this type of event a few times a year or more.
With half of craft beer drinkers attending a tasting at least once a year it should be obvious that local breweries are the biggest draw in this category. Sixty one percent say they have visited a local brewery at least once in the last year, with nearly half of males in the 21-34 age range having visited more than three times. Craft beer drinkers also take the time to visit breweries in other regions as well with 45 percent saying they made it a point to visit a brewery at least once while traveling in the last year. Brewers are also reaping the benefits of these visits — 61 percent say after visiting a brewery they made it a point to purchase more of that brewery’s product.
Finally, as craft beer becomes more of a staple in the diet of modern Americans, pairing with food is becoming more popular. As with wine, most craft beers can be paired with certain foods to bring out the flavors of both the meal and beer for a better all-around experience for the consumer. The CIP survey asked participants their thoughts on food pairings and found that almost half, 47 percent, “always or often drink craft beer with food,” with those that drink craft weekly doing so with food 61 percent of the time. Almost everyone responded they “at least sometimes drink craft beer with food,” and 45 percent said they pair craft beer with food more often now than a couple years ago.
What foods craft beer is paired with also plays a part on the choice of the consumer. Salty snacks and meals that feature meat are the most popular choices to pair with craft beer as 85 percent say they are very likely to do so, and almost 60 percent surveyed say they are more likely to select a specific beer style to complement their meal choice.
Craft beer is on fire in America and the quality of craft beer is the difference in the eyes of the consumer. The core craft beer drinker is focused on a product that has a variety of tastes that range from one end of the spectrum to the other. New, interesting breweries that offer tastings, tours and food pairing advice are the favorites of the modern craft beer drinker. While the average consumer drinks a variety of adult beverages, quality beer made locally with the consumer in mind is quickly becoming the choice for today’s beer drinker.