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It’s official: America now IPA country

Sales of IPA (known as India Pale Ale in some parts, but quite often simply called I-P-A) in the United States surpassed those of Pale Ale for the first time this year, according Symphony IRI.

The data is primarily for packaged goods sold in supermarkets, convenience stores and big box stores but there’s no reason to believe it would be different if you tossed in, say, beer sold on draft in pubs and bars. Officially, “seasonal” is the No. 1 craft beer style, but that’s another discussion.

In his “Craft Brewing & Mid-Year Category Sales Review” Dan Wandel of Symphony IRI told Brewers Association members that IPA sales increased 39 percent in the first half of the year, continuing an ongoing trend that moved it past Pale Ale. He also said that IRI now tracks 253 IPA brands, up 76 in the last six months.

As well as reporting the basic facts (craft beer dollar sales increased 14.3 percent in the first six months, but sales of Blue Moon and Shock Top beers are growing even faster) Waddell took a look at what else beer drinkers buy when they go shopping for their favorite brands.

When craft beers are in a shopping basket there’s a good chance that imported wine will be. Products such as natural cheese, fresh cut salad, yogurt, orange juice and canned tomatoes also index highly. When other beer is in the basket there’s a much higher chance cigarettes, processed cheese slices and frozen pizza will be.

And we wonder how stereotypes get formed.

13 Responses to It’s official: America now IPA country

  1. Rick S. August 25, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

    Nice! Love the little stereotypes tucked in at the end.

  2. dave August 25, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    “canned tomatoes” that one stuck out to me.

    If only I could get beer at a grocery store.

  3. Bill August 25, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    More seriously, the “what’s in the shopping bag” says something about income levels, too. Part of the problem with folks believing that craft beer will eventually take over the market from adjunct lagers is that many of the folks don’t factor price into the picture. The folks who write about organic/fresh food have always heard the response of “but what about those who can’t afford it?” They haven’t come up with a solution yet, though the hated-and-derided big box stores have done wonders in bringing both organic foods and fresh produce to wider populations at a more affordable price. But it hasn’t happened with beer. There isn’t the craft equivalent of the case of beer for $16.

    Folks on the larger beer forums use the argument that a sixer of, say Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is only, say $2-3 more than that of not-on-sale Bud Light. Except many many folks are budgeting everything, and it’s a question of supermarket brands, processed cheese, frozen dinners, and inexpensive booze. To assume it’s all about craft beer providing better flavor and that cost isn’t an issue is to miss the point: cost is almost entirely the issue. Craft beer is winning over those with the discretionary income to spend on it. But so long as it’s being priced at $9 or more a sixer, its audience will only be those who can afford it, and if it can’t come down in price, breweries that can make money selling $16 cases of beer will maintain the hold on the market.

    Which is why, if MillerCoors or InBevAB can make a pale ale or IPA and price it close to their lagers, they’ll carry the day. Coors has turned Blue Moon into something everybody knows at a price significantly below craft equivalents. If they or AB do the same with a pale ale or IPA, the smaller craft brewers will keep the same percentage of the population they have now. Or shrink.

    My guess is that Boston Beer and New Belgium and Sierra Nevada and other “large” craft brewers realize this and that’s why you see 12 packs discounted at supermarkets, and maybe they’ll get to the point where they can lower the cost per bottle. Because otherwise, the income divide will limit the growth of craft.

  4. Jeff Alworth August 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm #

    Hey, I was on that phone call, too! (Wonder who else we know was, as well?) One correction, though, it’s Dan Wandel, not Waddell.

  5. Stan Hieronymus August 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    Thanks, Jeff. Given that I not only know what he sounds like but looks like (from presentations at CBC) very bad on my part. Fixed.

  6. Mike August 25, 2011 at 2:32 pm #

    Why is Blue Moon mentioned in an article about boutique beers? Surely it’s just crap beer wearing a pretty skirt.

    • Stan Hieronymus August 25, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

      Mike – The people who drink Blue Moon White don’t think it is a crap beer. And while it’s not a beer I’m going to order, neither do I. IRI follows the BA definition, so doesn’t count Blue Moon (the White is easily the best seller) when it totals up craft sales.

  7. Ed August 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm #

    Interesting thoughts, Bill. But we also have to remember that food in the US is very cheap – subsidized to a great deal by taxpayer money going to the producers of commodity crops. And that the organic food is growing – “Sales in 2010 represented 7.7 percent growth over 2009 sales” (and that was during an economic downturn).

    Another factor to think about is habit. Many people buy the same things – be they food or beer – out of habit. The default choice rules. Trying something new is not the ideal option in everyone’s opinion.

    Also, then there’s distribution laws and shelf apce allocation, and they buying of shelf space (where it’s legal or possible).

    If the growth of craft beer is to be limited, we haven’t seen by what yet.

    • Stan Hieronymus August 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

      Ed – I think price will be a limitation. And I’d rather see breweries committed to the costs involved in producing flavorful beer than in turning it into a commodity.

  8. Jeff Alworth August 25, 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    Blue Moon is not the most characterful wit in the market, but it’s a testament to the current moment that we scoff at it at all. In 1980, such a beer would have been unthinkable. And it’s not a bad beer, either. Assemble 25 American craft wits and it won’t finish first in a blind tasting. But neither will it finish last. So why isn’t it craft beer?

  9. Mike August 27, 2011 at 2:25 am #

    I last tasted Blue Moon several years ago. At the time, it fell just short of disgusting (smelled and tasted of unpleasant adjuncts). Perhaps it has improved lately, however, I would point out that it is comparable to Hoegaarden (which, it seems to me, better fits the descriptions above) in that both beers are produced by industrial brewers as a sort of boutique beer.

    I have not tasted other American wit beers, so it is difficult to compare to US competitors. However, I have tasted quite a few Belgian examples, most of which were (much) better than Hoegaarden.

    To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen: I know Belgian wit beers and you, Blue Moon, are no Belgian wit.

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