Craft beer navigated a 'competitive and maturing' beverage market in 2019

By Beth Newhart

- Last updated on GMT

The next Craft Brewers Conference will take place in San Antonio, Texas in April 2020.
The next Craft Brewers Conference will take place in San Antonio, Texas in April 2020.

Related tags Craft beer craft beverages Craft brewers Brewers association Brewery Beer Beer market

Zero-proof and low-ABV drinks are on the rise, but traditional craft beer is still tracking growth. The Brewers Association (BA) has industry highlights from the year, including a record 8,000 breweries operating in the US.

In 2019, small, independent craft brewing production was up by 4% midyear. More breweries opened their doors, bringing the total number to more than 8,000 for the first time. The BA reported that the number passed 7,000 in October 2018.

But with more competition came more pressure, and an estimated 300 breweries shuttered in 2019. Delaware became the first state this fall to have all of its brewers adopt the independent craft brewers seal. About 4,700 total operations, or 80% of US craft beer, now use the seal in packaging and marketing materials.

Growing jobs and managing the shut down

In September the BA’s economic impact report confirmed that the industry contributed $79.1bn​ to the US economy in 2018, employing 559,545 people. The value was a 4% increase over 2017, and job count an 11% increase.

Julia Herz, craft beer program director at BA, said “Small and independent breweries continue to be essential contributors to communities across the country, finding new ways to innovate and thrive amid evolving consumer preference and a competitive and maturing beverage market.”

At the end of 2018, BA changed its definition​ of a craft brewer to remove the requirement that the majority of a brewer’s volume had to be in beer. This was meant to encourage innovation and support brewers exploring other beverage categories without risk of losing their certification.

The industry took a slight hit at the new year after the US government shut down​ from December 22, 2018 - January 25, 2019. The 35-day stalemate was the longest shutdown in US history, and it rippled out with damaging effects.

With the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau out of operation, it could not approve labels or process permit requests. Brands lost revenue with delayed product releases, and breweries under construction had to push back their openings.


CBC insights and beer holidays

At the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) held in Denver in April, the BA discussed craft beer’s ‘mixed outlook’​ for the next few years. They said competition from other alcoholic drinks and a rising inclination toward low-or-no alcohol all forces craft brewers to think outside traditional IPAs​ and innovate.

Small, regional breweries have the most success in the US, and BA thinks flexible, diverse producers​ are the future of craft beer. A majority of BA members already offer or are planning to release drinks other than beer, like hard ciders, seltzers and sodas.

The BA sponsored two new national drinking holidays this year to encourage Americans to support small and independent brewers. National Independent Beer Run Day was celebrated on July 3 alongside the Fourth of July holiday, and Small Brewery Sunday​ was on December 1 to coincide with the Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping weekend.

There’s been a renewed focus on sustainability​ in beer production and packaging, and craft brewers have a lot of room for improvement with microbreweries and brewpubs the least efficient.

The BA offers an online measuring tool for members to track their energy waste from light, heat, water and air. Brewers are likely to upgrade their composting, recycling and waste management practices as consumers continue to demand eco-friendly and transparent products.

The 2020 Craft Brewers Conference will take place in San Antonio, Texas from April 19-22, where the BA will present a complete 2019 industry analysis.

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