There is a good article at MSNBC today which details the loss of sales for eight of America's top selling beer brands. The conclusions are set out in this passage:
Other than lighter-calorie beers, drinkers have also turned to imports, such as Corona, and to craft beers, which are produced, and usually also consumed, in relatively small regions, according to Eric Shepard of beer marketer’s Insights. Overall, sales of beer from 2005 to 2010 rose 1.9 million barrels to 208.4 million barrels. But sales of the top 20 brands dropped 10 million barrels to 149 million, a sign that Americans have turned to craft beers and imports.
Seeing as sales of craft beer in the US for the first half of 2011 were only 5.1 million barrels, this is not only about a mass shift to craft beers. Budweiser alone lost about that much in sales from 2006 to 2010 and there were already over 7 million barrels of craft beer being sold in 2005. If we presume that craft beer sales increases have more factors that a straight shift from Bud fans - wine drinkers, new drinkers, etc. - then craft beer really may only account for about 20% of the shift over the last five years.
The real winners have been the light mass made beers leveraging the claim to around 100 calories a can. As we know, most craft beers are a fair bit heftier in calories compared to the big brands - and the special brews are way higher. Is there not an argument that lower strength lower calories good beer is a market that is being missed? I know I have been hunting for better beer at under 4.5% this summer and it isn't easy. I wonder if there is reluctance to go there among craft brewers, little interest in taking on calorie claims for fear of their admitting what lurks in the rest of the range or maybe just not wanting to fly too close to the same stories spread by macro brewers.