Drinkers commonly assign aspects such as unique flavors, high quality ingredients, time and care taken during production, and small volume production as key attributes of craft.
The concept of ‘craft’ in alcoholic beverages applies primarily to beer: although other categories such as craft spirits, craft cider and craft gin are rising in popularity in the UK.
Flavor is king in craft
In the US, the Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as ‘small, independent and traditional,’ with an annual production of 6m barrels of beer or less. Less than 25% of a craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
However, no such definition exists in the UK. Chris Wisson, senior drinks analyst, Mintel, said that while this has not hindered the growth of craft so far, it has led to the term being misinterpreted and misused.
“Consumers are becoming increasingly discerning, looking for brands to justify themselves,” he told BeverageDaily. “People want reasons to justify that trade up [to craft]. If you call yourself a craft beer and you haven’t got that taste differentiation, people might start questioning why you call yourself craft.”
According to Mintel’s research, a third of Brits who buy alcoholic drinks find it hard to determine which brands are ‘craft,’ while 30% say they don’t understand what the term means. Despite this, 38% of Brits purchased a craft alcoholic drink in the three months up to November 2015.
The biggest factor consumers use to define ‘craft’ is a unique flavor, cited by 47% of those surveyed. Other factors are high quality ingredients (cited by 42%), care or time taken in production (41%) and small volume production (41%).
Craft beer buyouts
As in the US, small craft brands have caught the attention of multinationals. More than a third (35%) of Brits who buy alcoholic drinks believe that brands are no longer craft if they have been acquired by large companies.
But how aware are consumers of such acquisitions?
“There are two sides,” said Wisson. “The majority won’t know. Those takeovers are very industry focused, the majority of people won’t have any idea. However, the biggest craft fans will be very aware and know this very clearly.”
Around 28% of consumers also agreed that brands cannot be craft if they are too large in size, while they are also keen to support small businesses with 54% considering this a factor in buying craft.
However, 70% of those who buy alcoholic drinks believe that taste is ultimately more important than the producer of the drink.
Mintel suggests that excessively high pricing may hinder the growth of the craft sector in the future, with only 28% of consumers believing that it is worth paying more for craft drinks.
In the on-trade, only 24% of beer buyers are willing to spend more than £4 ($5.70) a pint for craft beer, and 21% are not prepared to go above £3 ($4.20) per pint. However, 5% are prepared to exceed £5 per pint ($7.10) on their craft purchases.
Craft: a term that’s constantly evolving
Wisson says what the industry considers as craft varies considerably between producers. “You speak to one brewery and they say you have to be independent at all costs, and you speak to another and they say no, it’s the ingredients,” he said.
And there are even some brewers who have decided to refrain from using the word ‘craft’ completely.
“There are a couple of craft breweries who have made a pointed decision not to use that term. They use ‘artisan’, or ‘hand produced’, because they are worried about the term ‘craft.’
“And it’s a term that’s constantly evolving, in five years it will be different, I think, because it’s constantly shifting.”