• Beer & Craft Brewing
  • Craft beer loses its cool

    "For a while it was a very good time to be brewing beer in Chicago . . . but for the last year, things flipped. Not all breweries are going to make it."

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    79彩票注册网址Craft beer is going flat after years of double-digit growth, setting the stage for a shakeout in a business that spawned a generation of independent breweries.

    79彩票注册网址Sales of craft beer in the Chicago area fell 10.4 percent last year, down from peak growth of 23.4 percent in 2015, data from market research firm IRI shows. Yet new entrants keep flocking to the business, with another 27 independent breweries opening in and around Chicago in the past two years.

    The emerging supply-demand imbalance fuels fears of a glut that will cull the ranks of craft brewers. Mainstream beer giant Constellation Brands recently unloaded Ballast Point, a label it had acquired for $1 billion when craft sales were surging four years ago. A sluggish, saturated market poses even steeper challenges for smaller independents.

    79彩票注册网址"For a while it was a very good time to be brewing beer in Chicago . . . but for the last year, things flipped," says Gabriel Magliaro, founder of Half Acre brewery. "Not all breweries are going to make it."

    Chicago has been hit especially hard by a wider slowdown in craft beer. Nationally, sales grew 2.8 percent to $4.3 billion last year, down from 18 percent growth in 2015.

    "Chicago is one of the leading decliners for craft beer because Chicago is a very well-developed craft beer market," says Patrick Livingston, IRI's beer, wine and spirits insights expert. "There is more to lose here."

    79彩票注册网址Chicago has 236 craft breweries, up from 157 in 2015. Denver, Seattle and San Diego are the other major beer cities and are facing similar issues, says Livingston. Illinois craft brewers employ 21,468 people and generate $3.2 billion in economic impact, according to the Brewers Association. The large number of breweries increases Chicago's exposure to a slowing market and intensifies competition at a time of shrinking demand.

    79彩票注册网址Craft beer has lost the cool factor it enjoyed about 15 years ago when independent brewers began challenging stodgy mainstream brands like Budweiser and Miller. Twenty-something drinkers, who account for a big segment of beer demand, have had countless craft beer options for their entire legal drinking lives.

    Today, many are turning to hard seltzers like White Claw79彩票注册网址 and Boston Beer's Truly, which are attracting both male and female drinkers—something craft beer never managed.

    "We have some projections showing the hard seltzer category eclipsing the entire craft beer segment by 2022," Livingston says.

    BREAKING THROUGH THE CLUTTER

    79彩票注册网址The dizzying array of craft brands also contributes to industry woes, making it hard for smaller labels to break through the clutter. That gives an advantage to national brewers that have the money to advertise and muscle their way onto store shelves and bar taps. As a result, craft beer's share of overall suds sales in Chicago is shrinking. According to Chicago-based Provi, an e-commerce company that tracks beverage consumption throughout the city, Chicago's craft beer market share declined 0.9 percent year over year from Jan. 1 to Dec. 10, to roughly 40 percent of all consumed beer.

    "There is a lot of clutter and a lot of brands on the shelves," says industry consultant Bump Williams. "Retailers are being more selective."

    79彩票注册网址Brewers are adapting by turning breweries into brewpubs that serve food and their own beer. Williams says that's a way to control quality and build a following of regular customers. Experts predict those who can't shift to a brewpub model will have to sell, form partnerships or close. A notable local casualty was Baderbrau Brewing in the South Loop, which closed in June 2018 after six years. Vice District Brewing closed its Chicago location last year. And Seery Athlone Brewing in Addison lasted only 84 days before it shuttered production in March.

    Reminiscent of the craft industry's early years, a brewpub strategy also limits growth potential, making it harder for local independents to compete with national brands. And a brewer that tries to take a craft label national risks undercutting the proposition that made craft beer appealing in the first place: products made locally by locals.

    "We have a deeper problem," says Michael Kiser, a craft beer expert and writer at website Good Beer Hunting. "The craft beer proposition was built on a successful idea that craft beer would not take over the world."

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    Craft surge fizzles

    Once the driving force of the beer industry, craft is now a mature market and local brewers see potential pain ahead.


    Sources: IRI, Provi


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