Brewing goliaths struggle to fit in at craft beer party

Wed Jan 21, 2015 2:11pm EST
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By Anjali Athavaley and Philip Blenkinsop

NEW YORK/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - At Top Hops on Manhattan's hip Lower East Side, drinkers can choose from 20 beers on tap from Dark Penance to Devil Dancer and over 600 more in bottles.

The bar is tapping into the surge in demand for craft beers and finds only the occasional customer opting for Budweiser or other brands of the two major brewers Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors.

While the majors still make three-quarters of all beer drunk in the United States they face a continued decline of market share. Their efforts in the last few years to push into richer flavored craft beer, which can easily sell at a 50 percent premium to standard lager, is failing to compensate.

Craft consumers have a vast number of over 3,000 small and local producers from Aardwolf to Zythum to choose from.

Industry body the Brewers Association says craft brewers caught $14.3 billion of a total U.S. beer market of $100 billion in 2013. Yet it also insists craft brewers must be small, independent and traditional and dismisses the likes of AB InBev's Goose Island or MillerCoors' Blue Moon as impostors.

"As I've gotten older, if I want to spend calories on beer, I want to drink something I like," said 29-year-old Conor Griffin, singling out local breweries like SingleCut Beersmiths and Barrier Brewing Co as favorites. "I'm pretty picky."

The big brewers point out that some of their craft brews score well on rating websites, but between them, the pair had only a 20 percent share of the craft segment in 2013, with brands including Blue Moon and Shock Top, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

"It's nowhere near fast enough to make up for the loss of mainstream, such as Budweiser or Bud Light," said Societe Generale's Andrew Holland.   Continued...

A Budweiser sign is displayed along side a sign for Goose Island beer at a store in Brooklyn, New York January 14, 2015.   REUTERS/Brendan McDermid