Brewers association

Mid-Year 2021 Craft Beer Trends

How have craft brewers fared in the first half of 2021? Before I get into some of the data, I’ll point out that the best way to know for sure is to get the numbers from the brewers themselves, so part of the focus of this article is a thinly veiled promotion of the Brewers Association ( BA) mid-year survey. Once you have finalized your figures for the first half of 2021, please take a few minutes to fill it out.

The survey is simple. You just need to know your volume or trend relative to the same time in 2020 (and 2019 if you were open then). If you have a few extra minutes, there are a few more questions breaking down the June issue so we can get the latest numbers on different channels. No brewery names will be released, just a category total.

With that business out of the way, we can dive into some of the less perfect metrics of brewery performance in 2021. As I wrote a few weeks ago, comparing current trends to last year (or even 2019) is fraught with pitfalls, so all of these numbers need to be interpreted in a larger context.

To start, here are the BA-defined artisan sweep volumes in IRI plus convenience power strips for the first 26 weeks of the year (through the week ending June 27, 2021).

The narrative I would attribute to this chart is that the first ten weeks were partial pandemic market logic cycling non-pandemic logic. This means a continued strong transition from onsite to offsite and high sales. From there you see a weakening of that shift and the cycle relative to 2020 suddenly compares to the much larger shift we saw in the early months of the pandemic. And all of this against the backdrop of a time of year when, nationally, seasonality drives sales growth.

Then, here are the growth rates grouped by weeks compared to the two years:

weeks Compared to 2019 Compared to 2020
1 to 10 15.9% 14.4%
11 to 20 11.8% -8.9%
21 to 26 6.0% -9.0%

Breaking it down this way you can see that weeks one through ten were pretty similar across both years (there wasn’t much growth from 2019 to 2020 in weeks one through ten) and then you get weakened growth compared to 2019 and a huge change compared to the first pandemic weeks of 2020.

As I’ve written before, for many smaller brewers, signs of weakening analytics may suggest the offsite boom may be waning and, in turn, point to strengthening draft numbers. Right now, I would say there is slight evidence of this. To demonstrate, here is BeerBoard’s draft beer trend from 2019.

It’s an improvement, but certainly not enough to compensate for the weakening of the scan. Now it’s all beer, not just craft beer, so craft could do better in the general draft trend (BeerBoard craft share data suggests it does, but not enough to fill this gap).

On a more positive note, Keg production data from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) through April showed greater improvement, although production can be expected to as distributors and retailers replenish their inventory. If the craft’s draft tracks closer to this line, it would lend support to the “weakening sweep is a good thing” theory.

Month 2021 (Barrels) 2019 (Barrels) 21 against 19
Jan 465 512 1,196,450 -61.1%
Feb 649,964 1,064,546 -38.9%
Tue 1,008,872 1,387,609 -27.3%
Apr 1,090,825 1,284,021 -15.0%

The last item is brewery sales, which we don’t really have real-time numbers on. For the first quarter, point of sale data from Arryved suggests sales were up 5% from 2020, but down 20% from 2019. However, first quarter data from TTB (which also include quarterly filers, so is an imperfect measure), indicating a slight decrease from 2020 but a slight increase from 2019 (I use the figure originally published by the TTB to account for revisions). Google search data suggests that sales have resumed the growth we were seeing before the pandemic and are up from 2019 and 2020, with similar trends from 2019 in the first and second quarters. Based on all three metrics, if I were forced to guess, I’d bet that brewery sales in the first half of 2021 were at least at 2019 levels, if not a little stronger, which means a lot stronger than in 2020, especially in Q2.

For now, I’ll leave it at that. We’ll have a much better idea in a month or two when we compile our mid-year survey data and get more state and TTB data that includes the start of summer. Want to help? Take the mid-year survey now.

while you are here

Speaking of surveys, we also just launched the latest iteration of our Benchmarking Salary and Benefits Survey. If you deal with HR, payroll, benefits, etc. for your brewery, or if you want to pass it on to the person in charge, please do so now.

Finally, no matter what you do at a brewery, we are also working on a demographic benchmarking survey of brewery workers. Fill it out if you are an employee and send it to your co-workers to fill out as well. It is anonymous and will provide more data on people who work in the beer industry by location and position.