Video: Emerging Craft Markets Noted at GABF

You can still find bronzing grandparents, golf courses and nightclubs in Florida, but after speaking with hordes of craft brewers at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver earlier this month, it seems that the Sunshine State also offers a growing range of craft beers.

While brewers said that they’ve waited many years for Florida to turn the corner, it’s not the only emerging market identified in the video above. Texas, the Carolinas and the rest of the Southeast are some of the regions mentioned as booming, while it’s widely accepted that the Northeast is approaching saturation.

The numbers seem to back up what the brewers are talking about, especially when it comes to Florida. According to data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm, three of the fastest-growing craft markets year-to-date ending on Oct. 6 are Tampa/St. Petersburg, which has increased dollar sales by 32.3 percent, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, which has increased dollar sales by 30.4 percent, and Orlando, which has increased dollar sales by 24.9 percent.

Steve Farace, the director of marketing at Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewing Company, which sits in the heart of this growth’s geography, said that the spiking popularity of craft in Florida, as with any market, can be attributed to three things: a community willing to embrace craft, effective wholesalers and a compatible retail environment. After SweetWater finished its $19 million expansion in April, the brewery started distributing to Florida in May. Farace said this was because Florida checked off in all three departments.

“South Florida really has been a great expansion market for us,” he said. “We’ve been in other parts of the state of Florida in the past, but South Florida as a market is a huge opportunity.”

Farace said that craft beer used to struggle in Florida because there weren’t many local breweries developing interest in the communities. However, in recent years, Cigar City Brewing in Tampa has achieved near-cult status, while other breweries like The Florida Beer Company and Funky Buddha Brewery have also surfaced in the state. Alchemy & Science, the craft brew incubation project of the Boston Beer Company, announced on Tuesday the launch of Concrete Beach Brewery, which will open in the Wynwood Arts District of Miami before the end of the year.

He also said that the success of Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada encouraged SweetWater to give the market a try. He was encouraged by the fact that Sierra wasn’t just selling their Pale Ale, but also Torpedo and various seasonal offerings. With distribution via Gold Coast Beverage Distributors, SweetWater now offers three brews in the market: SweetWater 420 Extra Pale Ale, SweetWater Blue and SweetWater IPA.

Farace said that South Florida has already become one of the brewery’s top-five markets in about six months. While he didn’t necessarily expect the growth to be so rapid, he did anticipate success there because of the brewery’s dedicated model of expansion.

“If we can’t be on the cold shelf, we actually ask our wholesalers to not even put us in the account,” he said. “We’d rather not be for sale in a place that might not be ready for us than to be for sale in a warm shelf some place and that beer probably not turn and eventually get old.”

Mark Hedegus, the director of sales and marketing at Goose Island Beer Company, said that Florida hasn’t been known as a traditional craft-friendly state, but just like the Southeast, the Carolinas, and parts of California, that’s starting to change.

“Not just with the basic craft beers; your IPAs and pale ales,” Hedegus said. “They’ve really already jumped into the sours and the bourbon county stouts.”

Rick Chapman, co-founder of the Coronado Brewing Company, said that his brewery re-entered Florida last year and that sales have increased by about 67 percent. He also said that while the region has about a 4 percent craft market share this year, he could see that number jumping to about 20 percent in five to seven years.

“All the new breweries popping up there are bringing awareness to craft,” Chapman said.

However, it seems that more than just the breweries, distributors and consumers have helped carry craft beer in these markets. Farace and Adam Lambert, Dogfish Head Brewery’s vice president of sales, said that retailers have also contributed to the growth. Farace said that tap handles are growing and serving as a strong indicator of viable markets. Wholesalers have told him that many bars that once carried two or three craft tap handles now carry five or six, and more craft-centric bars that already had 12 tap handles now carry 24.

Lambert said that Florida and Texas both rely more on chain businesses than other states, and retailers such as Publix and Total Wine & More in Florida, and HEB, Central Market and Whole Foods in Texas have played a strong role in craft’s development.

“A lot of key retailers are really embracing craft,” Lambert said.

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