I recently returned from a six-day trip to Montana. I had never been to Montana before and it’s absolutely spectacular, in July at least. I cannot vouch for January. The photo is from a hotel bar in Three Forks and what shocked me is there wasn’t a tap for Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller or Coors. Beer consumption in the United States continues to decline and tastes have changed.
The Wall Street Journal article from Wednesday August 1 points out the overall decline and the concerns from the largest companies Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev) and MillerCoors. The ongoing rise in popularity of craft beers is evidenced by what I saw in that bar in Montana. For the record there were other occasions in Montana in which only Bud, Bud Light, Coors, and Miller were on the tap.
The beer kings have seen this coming and have started or purchased craft breweries to meet the changing taste of the shrinking beer drinking public. In addition to Bud and all its related cousins, AB InBev owns Michelob, as well as the following brands –
3 Rolling Rock 4 Busch 5 Shock Top 6 Natural 7 Johnny Appleseed 8 LandShark Lager
Craft Ownership 9.1 Goose Island Brewery 9.2 Blue Point 9.3 10 Barrel 9.4 Elysian Brewing Company 9.5 Golden Road Brewing 9.6 Four Peaks Brewery 9.7 Breckenridge Brewery 9.8 Devils Backbone Brewing Company 9.9 Karbach Brewing Company 9.10 Wicked Weed Brewing
MillerCoors (100% owned by Molson Coors) has its own lineup:
Miller Coors Molson, Blue Moon, Colorado Native, Crispin cider, Foster’s, Killian’s, Grolsch Hamm’s, Henry Weinhard’s, Keystone Lech, Leinenkugel’s, Mickey’s, Milwaukee’s Best, Olde English, Old Vienna, Pilsner Urquell, Red Dog, Saint Archer, Sharp’s Smith, & Forge, hard cider Steel Reserve, Terrapin Tyskie.
Beer brands that were popular through the ’90s are no longer the dominant force. That people today prefer not to drink their dad’s beer (or grandpa’s for that matter), should not come as a surprise but the acceleration of that decline makes it almost seem as if somewhere a switch was flipped.
From the WSJ article: ‘Miller Lite, Coors Light, Bud and Bud Light have all lost share to upstart labels. “The big things are declining. The smaller things are growing,” AB InBev Chief Executive Carlos Brito told investors in March.
Demographics also are at work. Industry research has shown young white males still prefer beer, but their numbers are declining as a percentage of the population.
African-Americans favor spirits, and the percentage of liquor consumers that are Hispanic is rising, the research shows. Women’s per-capita alcohol consumption has risen, but they prefer wine and cocktails.
Millennials drink less than older generations, hitting alcohol volumes more broadly.’
Years ago there were a number beer brands that were known for being inexpensive and people would buy them for that reason. While that still exists to some degree today I don’t see ordering a beer in a bar to be a strictly financial decision. Beer cost is less important than it used to be. More likely it’s beer’s perceived ‘empty’ calories, the carbs, and the sugars that are cause for pause when deciding what to have.
Twenty years ago most people hadn’t even heard of an IPA (India Pale Ale). Today people are more sophisticated in their beer taste and know if they like a more hop forward IPA or less. Far different from when beer was beer and it all tasted much the same. For the beer drinker it’s never been a better time.
For companies like AB InBev and MillerCoors, they acknowledge the change by the de-emphasis on their flagship brands and focus on an ever-widening list of craft beers. As long as the big boys have the distribution in place they’ll remain a factor both at retail and in bars and restaurants.