Gallup: Beer Holding Steady Despite Recession

Gallup has some interesting results out today about drinking patterns. Bottom line? The recession hasn't affected consumption. However, below the bottom line are a few interesting trends.

America has pretty standard rates of consumption. Going back to 1939, the number of people reporting that they drink was consistently in the mid-60s (the low was in 1958 at 55%, the high in the late 70s at 71%). For the past decade, the number hasn't shifted at all--varying only within the margin of error. This year it was measured at 64%.

Where it gets more interesting is in what they drink. We generally consider the past 20 years to be a renaissance in both beer and wine consumption, yet overall beer consumption has actually fallen during that period. When Gallup started this poll in 1992 and for about the next decade, about 45% of American drinkers drank beer. But over the past five years, only about 40% of them did.

For those of us who just follow craft brewing, this look wrong--over that same period, sales of craft beer are way up. What the ... ? Actually, this is the same pattern we've seen in Oregon:
  • Over the last 10 years per capita consumption of beer is down in Oregon, yet
  • Over the last 5 years Oregon Brewed beer consumed in Oregon rose from 9.9% to 12%.
Gallup didn't dig down into the market segments of each kind of beverage, but we can intuit some patterns. While beer as a segment is down, there are winners and losers within the segment. I don't have the numbers on the large tin-can breweries, but they must be flatlining or declining. That's why we have seen products like Bud American Ale and the rise of the 'faux micro.'

Gallup also offered demographics of drinkers, and one number really jumps out: women. Only 21% of them are beer drinkers. They much prefer wine (50%). It is even true of younger women; only a quarter of them are beer drinkers. (Men are the big beer drinkers. Half of men drink beer, and two-thirds of young men do.)

This is very good news for craft brewers. The macros have encouraged a frat party sensibility about beer (sometimes bordering on mysogeny) and are going to find it hard to lure women. But craft brewing has none of the machismo. In fact, by highlighting taste and food compatibility, craft breweries are making a play for wine-drinking women. They could continue to grow at quite a clip for years to come simply by encroaching on that demographic. Based on who I've seen drinking in pubs and at beer fests, Oregon craft breweries are already doing great.