Imported beers have been a big driver for growth in the US over the last decade with volumes ballooning 13 per cent between 2004 and 2009, according to Mintel data.
But that long term trend disguises a more recent drop in demand in 2007/2008 as volume sales of imports fell 5.4 per cent to 386m cases.
Undoubtedly the recession has an important part to play in this story of falling volumes but there may be other factors at play that caste doubt on the ability of big foreign brewers to recapture old growth rates.
The contrast between the 5.4 per cent decline in imported volumes and the 1.6 per cent increase in domestic volumes is certainly a cause for concern among beer exporters to the US.
A Mintel analyst told BeverageDaily.com that a lack of innovation was one stumbling block, as imported beers may be slightly out of tune with recent trends like the growing popularity of light beers, light flavoured beers, and seasonal drinks.
In addition, the analyst said that innovations in domestic beer have attracted consumers who may have previously preferred imported brands.
Results of a recent Mintel survey of 1,880 consumers in the US support this idea as only 24 per cent of respondents said they preferred to drink imported beer, and, when asked to explain why, 42 per cent said domestic “just tastes better” than imported.
One of the great recent success stories on the US market are craft beers. Like imported beers these products carry a higher than average price tag but unlike their rivals from abroad they have managed to attract more consumers during the recession.
Mintel said craft beers are creating the sort excitement on the domestic market that imports once did and this buzz is translating into increased market share.
On the back of double digit volume growth, craft beer has increased its share of the US market from 6.2 per cent in 2006 to 7.5 per cent in 2008, according to Mintel. And over the past year there is no sign that craft beers have been stopped in their tracks by the recession.
Mintel predicts that crafts will continue to be major growth drivers in the US over the next five years, with seasonal and super-premium products tipped to perform especially well.
To mount an effective counter-attack imported beers will have to work harder to tap into domestic trends such as the movement to lighter beers and seasonal or limited edition products. Mintel also recommends that imported beers emphasize their price competitiveness compared to most craft beers.