International interest in American craft beer is surging, according to new data from the Brewers Association.
In a press statement, the BA – which represents the interests of small and independent U.S. craft brewers – said American craft beer exports grew 35.7 percent in 2014, to more than 383,000 barrels and a retail value of nearly $100 million.
“Beer drinkers internationally are embracing the innovation and flavors offered by American craft brewers,” Bob Pease, Brewers Association CEO said in a press statement. “The Brewers Association is pleased to assist our members with increasing their access to markets abroad.”
In its report, the BA highlighted markets like Canada, Japan and Brazil, which grew 32.3 percent, 31.7 percent and 63.9 percent, respectively, in 2014. Canada, the largest export market for U.S. craft beer, accounted for 53 percent of all shipments in 2014. Another 12 percent of all exported craft beer was shipped to Sweden, the BA said.
“The BA has over 2,500 members right now and, in addition to all of these events and programs and driving awareness in D.C., the BA has a great focus on its Export Development Program (EDP),” said Rob Tod, the founder of Allagash Brewing.
The EDP assists nearly 100 member-participants with access to global markets and generates exposure for American craft beer at international trade shows, festivals, competitions and seminars, said Mark Snyder, the program manager.
The program, which launched in 2004, is funded through a combination of organization funds, participant dues – which ranges between $500 and $1,195 annually, depending upon barrelage – and $600,000 of grants from the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Market Access Program.”
While that kind of support has no doubt helped to stimulate the growth of craft globally, John Bryant, the co-owner of Spokane, Washington’s No-Li Brewhouse, believes greater competition domestically and increasing demand from importers has contributed to the global development of craft.
“I think international importers really want to connect with successful U.S. brands that are validated,” said Bryant. “They pay attention to the U.S. trends and if you are successful in some area, they are interested.”
No-Li sells its beer in three countries, including Canada, That interest is stemming from the influx of new breweries and the increasing focus on innovation, which has helped many new brewers earn recognition in international competitions and even boosted the appeal of U.S. craft beer, Bryant said.
Still, while the interest from international distributors, retailers and consumers is swelling, only a small percentage of all U.S. brewers actually ship their beer to other countries.
One company that doesn’t export is the highly praised Portland, Maine-based brewery, Allagash. Founder Rob Tod said that despite the growth opportunities abroad, his company does not currently ship product overseas. Instead, Tod has opted to focus on continuing his company’s growth at home.
“U.S. craft beer is on the beer world map and drinkers all over the world are eager to get their hands on the beer being made now by over 3,000 tremendous U.S. craft breweries,” he said. “But we are growing as fast as we are comfortable growing within our current footprint and are unable to open new markets — and that includes domestic and international markets. If we expanded internationally, the pace would have to pick up and that is not something we want to do at this time.”
And while Tod didn’t point to any specific reasons for the decision to keep all of his beer on U.S. soil, one important consideration both he and Snyder said brewers must examine before exporting is beer freshness.
“Cold chain (distribution) is key,” said Snyder. “Even though it might start out cold, you want those containers to be refrigerated and you want it to go into a warehouse that is refrigerated.”
Snyder said it could take six weeks before a beer finally ends up for sale in an international market, making quality and freshness a primary concerns for brewers.
“You have to manage freshness no matter where you are and it takes work and resources to do it,” Tod said. “You have to make sure that your beer is being shipped in suitable, temperature controlled containers and that importers and distributors are rotating and watching inventory levels. You have to plan, with your importer or distributor partners, to make sure you are executing on the quality fronts. But it doesn’t matter your beer is down the road, 5 or 10 states away or international — you have to work to ensure quality and freshness.”