Beer in the USA: What do recent trends and insights in the US beer sector mean for markets and consumers?
The US beer market is evolving as consumers seek out more indulgent products, new sensory experiences and products that mark the start of moments of relaxation and escapism. Eloise McLennan sums up the trends identified in an upcoming Canadean report by Ronan Stafford
Canadean has identified sensory appeal and indulgence as the mega-trend currently having the greatest impact on the market. Image courtesy of MaxyM.
After a brief post-recession decline over the 2010-2011 period, the US beer market growth recovered between 2012-2015. The popularity of craft beers, focused around smaller production scales, style, connoisseurship, flavours and often aspirations has contributed significantly to the market boost, transforming the perception of beer from an old-fashioned product to a more engaging and trendy beverage.
US consumers turn to beer to accompany their relaxation time, alone or in the company of friends and family, seeking out regular moments of escapism where they can retreat and recuperate from the stresses of everyday life.
In an upcoming report, ‘Consumer and Market Insights: Beer in the US’, which is due to be released in October, Canadean examines the emerging trends in the region, from flavour innovation to packaging sales, as well as how US consumers are trading up, preferring quality over quantity.
Indulgent flavour experiences create emotional connections for consumers
While the beer category in the US is shaped and influenced by a myriad of diverse consumer motivations, Canadean has identified sensory and indulgence as the mega-trend that is having the greatest impact on the market. This is most evident in the explosion of the craft beer segment, driven by consumers’ desire for more authentic products that improve the consumption experience both on a taste and an emotional level.
According to Canadean, the need for indulgence is more important for women than men, which suggests that they will be slightly more receptive to indulgence cues, such as craftsmanship and taste-aligned claims. The desire for indulgence is the most important factor for early young adults, meaning this age group is the most likely to trade up for premiumised products that they associate with indulgent taste sensations.
US consumers turn to beer to accompany their relaxation time, alone or in the company of friends and family. Across all age groups, the desire for ‘me time’ is the strongest among early young adults, indicating that this is the most receptive group towards this product positioning. The desire for treating yourself is the primary beer market driver in the US, with consumers turning to the category in search of the most indulgent tastes. Beer drinkers are paying increasing attention to this category, as a result of the growth of craft beer; lager and low alcohol lager brands need to learn from ales that are using more detailed flavour descriptions and unusual production positioning to show how their beers offer the best treat.
The extensive appearance of unconventional beer flavours further solidifies the relevance of indulgence in the beer market. On the heels of the experimental craft segment, small and large brewers are introducing new and unusual ingredients into beer production in order to entice new drinkers, challenge existing ones and expand consumption occasions. For example, the creation of beers specially designed to be paired with food, such as red meat, white meat, fish or vegetarian dishes, expands the image of beer as an alternative to wine.
Creating new and interesting flavour combinations using a wide variety of ingredients will appeal to consumers looking for more complex beers. As consumers look to maximise their taste sensations during their relaxation time, craft products will continue to add more unusual ingredients, including those designed to make the drinking experience slower and to encourage consumers to savour the experience for longer. Although Canadean reports that bitter flavours are considered most appealing to more than a third of beer drinkers in the US, this is notably lower than the global average, while 26% of US beer drinkers consider sweet flavours to be the most appealing flavour type. Significantly, bourbon is perceived to be the second-most appealing bitter flavour (after burnt sugar), which presents opportunities for developments in the emerging hybrid spirit-beer segment.
Increased focus on heritage and small batch sizes tap into the artisan and craft trend
Fuelled by a growing interest in the description and backstory of beer, the trend for connoisseurship is becoming a prominent feature in the sector, as consumers become more educated on beer tastes. Craft beer manufacturers are particularly well placed to target this trend, as they can utilise their association with unique recipes, exclusivity and smaller production scale. However, while a proportion of consumers associate craft beers with premium quality, according to a 2015 Canadean survey, 48% of consumers in the US agree with the statement that words such as ‘craft’ and ‘artisanal’ are just an excuse to charge extra.
In order to communicate craftsmanship worthy of a premium price, manufacturers can emphasise the brand’s history and heritage without explicitly mentioning the word craft. Using phrases such as ‘small production scale’ or listing the specific size of the production batch creates the appearance of exclusivity, while phrases such as ‘authentic recipe’ suggest superior taste. This makes consumers feel like they’re getting the best quality treat, making the moment of personal downtime more effective in relieving stress and providing comfort.
Consumers are also placing more importance on novelty, where experiences can act as a social facilitator – such as products that can be shared with friends. Nostalgic beers with retro-style bottle and label designs, as well as the original recipes, will appeal to older consumers, while lower alcohol by volume (ABV) beers featuring juice or soft drink additions will appeal to early young adults seeking fun and novel beers.
As the market becomes increasingly crowded with craft beer varieties, Canadean forecasts that larger brands will increasingly adopt the experimental and short run mentality of craft brewers, which will lead to a rise in seasonal and limited edition products appearing in stores. Frequent reinvigoration of beer products will allow consumers to regularly enjoy new flavours without becoming bored with them, while simultaneously enabling manufacturers to track consumers’ preferences. This will become increasingly affordable for manufacturers as the cost of small production runs falls, letting them quickly test the demand in the market for a particular flavour or ingredient.
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