Trade Groups Form ‘Beer Growth Initiative’ Aimed at Improving Category Health

In an effort to curb beer’s dwindling share of the broader alcohol market, three major trade associations — the National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA), the Brewers Association (BA) and the Beer Institute (BI) — have formed a group tasked with improving the health of the beer segment.

During the NBWA’s annual convention Monday, outgoing chairman Jim Matesich announced the the formal launch of the “Beer Growth Initiative.”

The effort is being spearheaded by alcoholic beverage consultancy Tamarron, along with leaders from the NBWA, BA and BI who are serving on a steering committee.

Strategy meetings for the Beer Growth Initiative started in February and preliminary discussions have carried on over the last seven months, Matesich said.

On Tuesday, leaders from the trade associations as well as large and small beer companies — including Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Craft Brew Alliance — met for three hours to discuss possible strategies for growing beer sales and to view a presentation from market research firm Nielsen that examined female consumers’ purchasing behaviors.

In conversations with people familiar with the meetings, it was learned that the “Beer Growth Initiative” has aspirations to create similar campaigns run by other consumer product goods industries, such as milk (“Got Milk?”) and beef (“Beef, it’s what’s for dinner”). Although the focus of this effort is still unclear, target areas could include attempts to reach consumers that beer has struggled to connect with, including women, Generation Z and minorities.

During a speech Monday, NBWA president and CEO Craig Purser said the industry must prioritize making beer relevant to new legal-drinking-age consumers in the 21- to 29-year-old age range by reaching out to those consumers with digital advertising. He added that smartphone technology, including dating apps, have taken away on-premise drinking occasions by making it easier for young people to meet without going to bars and clubs.

“They don’t have to go to the club to meet a date, they just swipe right,” he said. “And if emerging LDAs are spending that kind of time on dating platforms and social media, beer’s got to be there too.”

Purser added that the initiative’s focus should be clear before the end of the year.

The announcement of the Beer Growth Initiative comes nearly 10 months after the boards of directors for the NBWA and BI passed resolutions pledging to work together with other industry players to advance the beer category, which has lost market share to wine and spirits in recent years.

Matesich told the crowd of thousands of beer wholesalers on Monday that the Beer Growth Initiative is a byproduct of those efforts.

“I am happy to report that this group has made major progress in finding gaps and identifying opportunities to improve perceptions and experiences along with finding ways to strengthen sales and execution in the on- and off-premise retail markets,” he said.

However, challenges exist in getting competing beer companies and wholesalers on the same page. Matesich implored industry members to “stop running each other down.”

“As a united beer industry, beer shaming needs to end,” he said. “Our consumers are the final judge, and whether they’re drinking a light lager or a pumpkin ale, they’re drinking beer, and we love ‘em for it.”

The move toward unity appeared to be foreshadowed at a brunch hosted by Boston Beer Company during last week’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Boston Beer founder and chairman Jim Koch and BA president and CEO Bob Pease both struck a softer tone when discussing mainstream beer companies, saying their new ad campaigns were not about denigrating larger brewers but highlighting the differences between small and independent producers and corporate breweries.

Nevertheless, incoming NBWA chairman Michael Schilleci told wholesalers attending Tuesday’s session that the Beer Growth Initiative needs to continue into 2019.

“When you can show someone a warehouse with sours next lagers, imports next to domestics, it becomes clear that there is a beer for every occasion,” he said.

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