Shelf Awareness

Craft brewers push their way into premium space once reserved for the big boys

Over the last 20 years, craft brewers have nibbled away at a market once dominated by mass-market brewers. The little bites (sips?) have been adding up.

Craft beer accounted for 11 percent of beer market share in 2014, with nearly 22 million barrels produced, according to the Brewers Association. This equates to $19.6 billion in sales — a 22 percent growth over 2013.

As the market continues to grow, shelf space once reserved for the big boys is now at a premium. Larger craft mainstays are forcing their way into beer coolers at the expense of some of the Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors brands.

Independent and forward-thinking stores have featured craft beer for years, including Hour Detroit reader favorites like Champane’s Wine Cellars, Holiday Market, The Beer Baron, Discount Drinks, and 8 Degrees Plato.

Now some major chains are following suit. Meijer, Westborn Market, and Kroger have dedicated craft beer sections.

Even Walgreens has been reported to carry a few better-known craft brands and has a build-your-own six-pack program. Now that’s pretty much mainstream.

Bars and restaurants are keeping up. More tap handles are being added and designated for craft beer.

Hopcat’s Detroit location alone has 130 taps. Other places offer scores of draft/bottle selections, including One-Eyed Betty’s, The Beer Grotto, Ale Mary’s, Rochester Tap Room, Slows Bar BQ, and Brown Iron Brewhouse, to name a few.

Big Beer Plays Defense

Think the big boys aren’t noticing? Television commercials from Budweiser poke fun at craft beer drinkers’ “pretentious” attitude, or place a hidden camera in a bar filled with “hipsters” who are secretly served Budweiser to their ultimate enjoyment.

It’s funny, because at the same time Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors are buying out or purchasing minority interests in craft breweries.

MillerCoors was even sued over the Blue Moon brand. The lawsuit alleges their advertising campaign’s slogan “artfully crafted” coupled with absolutely no mention of the parent company is intentionally deceptive and it insinuates that the beer was brewed by a smaller, independent company. None of the eight breweries in the MillerCoors family brews less than 6 million barrels of beer annually.

The lawsuit also claims that Blue Moon is actually brewed in several locations across the country instead of one independent brewery and that MillerCoors is charging up to 50 percent more for Blue Moon than it does for other products brewed at the same facility.

Glass Overflowing?

The looming question is “how much can the market handle?”

With the total number of breweries nearing 3,500, the United States is seeing more beer selections than any time in history. There’s concern the bubble will eventually burst.

Michigan residents have access to more than 500 brands, which includes Michigan breweries, regional craft brands, national craft brands, big brands, and global imports.

It takes a lot of shelf space. Retailers have to be selective with what they carry, and be knowledgeable about the seasonal and special release schedules of the breweries.

For now, though, Michigan’s thirst for craft beer is strong and shows no sign of slowing.