Posted on | May 1, 2012
Written by | Jim Clarke
The beer fridge at your local deli, liquor store, supermarket or bodega will tell you that people are drinking a wider variety of beers than ever. What the shelves don’t show is who’s drinking them. Stats are hard to come by, but the typical beer drinker seems to have become a moving target. “I think the demographics are changing dramatically,” says Al Patel, senior multicultural director for MillerCoors.
Millennials—loosely defined as those coming of age after 2000—are one highly coveted market. They’re a larger cohort than their predecessors, Generation X—approximately 80 million, compared to 50—but less inclined to drink beer. According to a 2011 study by the Harris Poll, 37% of Millennials say beer is their drink of choice, compared to 41% of Generation Xers. The shift is toward wine; 24% of Millennials cite wine as their preferred drink, compared to 16% of the older group, a surprising contrast since drinkers tend to move toward wine as they grow older.
Tara Carraro, senior director for corporate communications at Heineken USA, says Millennial consumers are a prime target for Heineken USA, and they aim to reach them through a combination of traditional and social media. Dos Equis, for example, was the first beer brand in the world to reach one million “likes” on Facebook. “Likes” aside, brand loyalty isn’t what it once was for previous cohorts of beer drinkers. “Younger consumers are more adventurous,” says Patel, “incorporating more brands into their routine.”
Craft beers appear to be the biggest beneficiaries of that adventurous character. Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Brewers Association, says 46% of new craft beer drinkers are Millennials. Even when craft beer drinkers do “commit” to a brand, that “adventurous” character seems to mean they’re still interested in variety. According to Nielsen, seasonal beers and variety packs each accounted for 19% of the category’s growth in the past year (craft beer was the only beer category to manage double-digit growth in 2011, at 16.3%). The same study shows craft beer taking on a new influx of drinkers: 11% of craft beer’s 2010 growth was from new drinkers, versus a staggering 46% in 2011.
Craft beer drinkers have come to expect breweries to produce multiple beers rather than a single iconic product, reflecting the same notion of brand loyalty behind the popularity of seasonal beers and variety packs. Guinness, for one, is expanding its range accordingly to include a Black Lager and the stronger Foreign Export Stout. Brand Director Doug Campbell says they see craft beer drinkers responding positively to the latter; the lager provides a more refreshing beer for warmer seasons while staying true to the house character.
In other ways, though, the stereotypical craft beer drinker hasn’t changed much. By volume, 80% of craft beer was enjoyed by white (non-Hispanic) consumers, over half of them in the 21-44 year age bracket. More than 75% earned at least $50,000/year, and 43% were college-educated. Despite its continued growth, the craft beer industry faces a mounting awareness that reaching lower-income and multicultural beer drinkers may represent a challenge for further growth.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Latinos make up 16% of the U.S. population—one in six—and that number is expected to continue to grow. Latinos have traditionally leaned toward Mexican imports or beers from their home country. Tecate, for example, “has always had a very strong base among first generation Mexican-American males,” according to Heineken USA’s Carraro. However, Latino beer-drinkers’ tastes are changing.
“The 2010 census shows that 60% of Hispanics in the United States today are U.S.-born,” says Patel of MillerCoors. “We have a different sort of Latino consumer; we can’t just default to language” to reach them. In fact, today Bud Light is the number one brand in the Hispanic market, with Corona bumped back into second place. Among MillerCoors brands, Coors Light and Blue Moon are growing faster with Latinos and African-Americans than with Caucasian consumers, according to Patel.
At the same time, Mexican brands have made a successful bid to move beyond the Mexican restaurant and Latino market. “Since the inception of the ‘The Most Interesting Man in the World’ campaign in 2006, we’ve seen all Mexican brands, not just Dos Equis, gain significant market share,” says Carraro.
Ladies & Gentlemen
Women, it turns out, represent some of the “Most Interesting Consumers in the World” for beer marketers. Overall, women represent one-quarter of U.S. beer consumption by volume—a number that has scarcely moved since 2003—but Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, says they’re seeing a steady growth in female attendance at craft beer events like the Great American Beer Festival.
“More often than not, I find that women I talk to are searching for more flavor out of their beer, as well as more aroma and texture,” says Stevie Caldarola, founder and president of Ladies of Craft Beer, an online magazine and forum. “On the other hand, my sister will drink Bud Light and Bud Light alone, insisting that anything else is overwhelming for her.” Caldarola’s own tastes lean toward “extreme” styles such as hoppy IPAs and Russian Imperial Stouts.
Caldarola says craft brewers also typically do a better job marketing to women—by not marketing to women. Beers that try to present themselves as particularly women-friendly face almost universal derision and scorn on the website’s forums for being patronizing. “A lot of what is coming out is clear or light, low-calorie and fruity or flowery beer which is either packaged in pink or somehow misses the mark,” she says. “Most of the reaction is that women do not want something that is specifically targeted at them, but that is gender-neutral in marketing and is a delicious product.”