Sunday, September 07, 2008

As economy dips, beer lifts

The Washington Post ran this Business section story yesterday:

Life's guilty pleasures usually thrive during tough economic times. <...> Now it seems the only acceptable — and affordable — sin left is alcohol, namely beer. <...>

More than 16 million barrels of domestic beer were sold in the United States in July, and annual sales that month are up 1.4 percent, the largest increase since 1990, when the economy was heading towards a recession, according to the Beer Institute.

Cold Comfort In Hard Times
By Ylan Q. Mui
September 6, 2008

All domestic beers of the US —craft and big boy— were mashed together in this report.

But US craft sales growth —although far less in total volume than the large concerns— has outpaced the big boys' sales so far this year (as it did last year, and the year before that, etc.).

Jim Dorsch, editor of American Brewer magazine, put it this way:
The categories are getting rather confusing these days. Folks like Nielsen and IRI count Blue Moon, Leinie's, etc, in the craft beer numbers, for example, while the Brewers Association does not.

Somehow Leinie's repositioned themselves as craft beers, with prices right up there with the top crafts. [Leinies, that is Leinengugel, is wholly owned by MillerCoors.]

A Twitter tweet from me about this article e-wended its way to Canada, and, once there, to Alan McCleod at A Good Beer Blog.

Alan reinforced the Post article's main argument:
Beer is the affordable sin not just as a budget recourse to easy mindless comfort but because it still can provide great value for extraordinary products in tight times.
Then, he added this admonition:
... craft brewers need to focus on the low-price end of the their brands.

The high end of beer pricing is moving in the wrong direction, however. When I was beer shopping down south [Canada to the US, that is] this year, I saw beer in the $20 and even over $30 range for the first time. I declined ...

High priced beer bottles might be perceived of as prestigious or exclusive, much as certain wines might.

But please! Maintain beer's standing as the accessible beverage of value (cost plus quality). Keep those costly bottles as fun, non-elitist, companion pieces to the greater majority of quality beer, comfortably priced.

I've clipped two quotable quotes from the Post article. The first is from author and historian Maureen Ogle:
Beer will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no beer.

The second is from a consumer who keeps a keg at home in an "old fridge" converted into a "kegerator":
I'd certainly choose food over beer. But I hope that never happens.

Amen, brother!

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