Beer, Foodies, and Demography

I’m a bit late on the uptake with this (the article that prompted this post ran on November 24, but I’ve mostly been sick since then, so . . . . )

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled “Budweiser Unhitches the Clydesdales,” in which the reporter notes the rather stunning drop in sales of Bud and the relationship between that and national demographics. (That's the print edition title.) To wit:

Random Image Series 2014

Random Image Series 2014

According to the piece, 44% of Americans 21-27 years of age have NEVER tried Budweiser.

People, that’s an astounding number. 44%? I nearly fell out of my breakfast chair when I first read it. Almost half of the major beer-drinking demographic has never tried what has been, for decades, the single most popular beer not just in the US but the world. I knew that Bud sales were down, but I never imagined a drop that dramatic.

More startling numbers: According to the piece, and based on numbers from Beer Marketer’s Insights, Bud’s US market share has fallen from 14.4% in 2004 to 7.6% in 2014. Unbelievable.

The bulk of the article details ABInBev’s plans to jumpstart Bud sales, in part by relying less heavily on the Clydesdales in advertising. And instead of focusing so much effort on stuff like professional baseball and NASCAR, AB-IB plans to sponsor “food festivals because 50% of 21- to 27-year-olds identify themselves as ‘foodies.'"

Digression: That last point grabbed my eyeballs. Half of twentysomethings regard themselves as “foodies”? What does that mean? They eat only homemade mayonnaise? They buy their food at farmers’ markets? They’re vegan? What? More to the point: what does that mean for the nation’s food system.


Anyway: no surprise, the craft beer folks were all over this article. Here, many argued, is proof that the “craft beer revolution” has succeeded. Sure, craft only owns a tiny chunk of the overall market, but by god, it’s killing Budweiser.

For once . . . I may have to agree. I’ve always argued that the success or failure of the craft “revolution” would rely entirely on the natural workings of demographics: Twentysomethings are, historically, the largest chunk of the beer market in the U.S. If craft could grab them from the legal-drinking-age get-go, it would make huge strides toward growing from small niche to mainstream.

People, that may be coming to pass. Demography is solidly on the side of craft (or, as sports analysts and politicos like to say, the fight is theirs to lose). The so-called “Millennial” cohort (roughly anyone born between 1980 and 2000) is the first to outnumber and/or equal the Baby Boom generation. (The lack of specificity is due to the lack of firm beginning/end dates.) As it matures, the Millennial cohort is exercising a significant impact on all aspects of American society, just as the Baby Boom did before it.

If the craft industry wanted to move from its ghetto, it HAD to grab this huge cohort. And  perhaps it has. 

Or . . . has it? What the article doesn’t tell us is what those twentysomethings are drinking. Wine? Cider? Mike’s Hard Lemonade? They may not be drinking Bud; they may not even be willing to try it. But it doesn’t follow that they’re downing craft beer, right?

Random Images Series, 2014

Random Images Series, 2014

So I wouldn’t be whooping and hollering too much. At least not yet.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that the mainstream brewing industry, by contrast, blew its chance with this cohort. During the 1990s, for example, brewers like AB kept relying on the same old marketing (boobs, babes, and dumb guys), an aging message that failed, to put it mildly, to resonate with Millennials.

So poor Bud has no one but its parents to blame for its decline. But, again, it’s not clear (at least not to me) that the craft industry can pat itself on the back. Had AB, Miller, and others made smarter decisions, the Millennials would have been drinking out of their hands. But they didn’t and so almost by default, craft has scored some major market movement.

And if ABIB can turn things around by, say, sponsoring festivals for “foodies,” hey — the entire dynamic could turn around. Again.

After all, there’s this to consider: According to the WSJ piece, the bar featured in the newspaper story agreed to host a “Bloodweiser” Halloween party by selling red Budweiser (food coloring). Result? The bar sold twice as much Bud that week.

So. Food festivals and Bloodweiser? Or Dogfish and nose-thumbing at the old folks? What will beer’s future hold?

Yeah, yeah. I know. Nuthin’ brilliant here. But hey, damn it, someone idiot infected me with a virus last week and I’m still working in a mental fog. At least that’s today’s excuse.