During a state of the industry address earlier this month at the Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia, Brewers Association director Paul Gatza said something that should have caused every brewery owner in the room to pause.
“The physics are changing,” he said. “A rising tide does not float all boats anymore.”
The comment was directed at regional breweries, some of which are struggling to grow sales in an increasingly crowded craft environment, but every one of America’s 4,500-plus craft brewery owners should have taken note of the modified aphorism.
While segment volumes have increased double-digits over the last six consecutive years, to more than 24 million barrels, category-wide growth is finally beginning to slow.
“More so than in previous years, 2015 — and the early signs are 2016 as well — are bringing some more mixed news for the craft brewing industry,” said BA chief economist Bart Watson, who joined Gatza during the address.
Success, Watson suggested, is a double-edged sword. Industry growth, he said, means expanded production, increased capacity and more opportunities to grow sales. But that also means challenges with financing growth independently and increased interest in the sector from well-resourced financial and strategic buyers.
But those are issues that nearly every beer business owner has grappled with over time. So what’s keeping today’s craft brewers up at night as they look out at a rapidly evolving craft beer landscape?
“Just how complicated it’s getting to run a small craft brewery that is based on all of the things that got us here in the first place — that sense of independence, that sense of excitement, creativity and imagination,” Shmaltz Brewing Company founder Jeremy Cowan told Brewbound.
Many attendees a;sp suggested that access to ingredients, increasing competition, a tougher fight for retail shelf space, changing consumer taste preferences and added pressure from the world’s largest beer companies were making it more difficult to operate.
Watch the video above to hear what current brewery owners think about changes in the craft marketplace.