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Can craft beer ever appeal to Gen Z? There's always hope

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Just Tapped

This week our first story is more of a statement than a story. It’s a weird news week because the midweek holiday interrupted the news cycle, so it seems a good time to look inward and tell you something about us. The second story is a bit more straightforward but also serves as an example of the stuff we talk about in the first story. Confused? Don’t be. Read on.

We ain’t just blowing sunshine up your skirt

It's not a taproom at the brewery, but it is a brewery's taproom at another location. We call it a satellite taproom. Lately, across the nation, there are countless examples of breweries opening satellite taprooms. It's a nationwide trend and it's a good one. A second or third taproom is a great way for a brewery to adapt to the shifting landscape. (Do you agree? we’d love to hear some feedback.) It's a sign of craft beer's resiliency and creativity in the face of a difficult, changing business environment.

The business of beer is more difficult than it was a decade ago. Duh. Skyrocketing costs, shrinking margins, non-beer alcohol beverages capturing consumer interest, and so on. There is a lot of negative stuff to report, but it need not be the entire focus. Many breweries are finding ways to adapt and even prosper.

At this point, we'd like to introduce two new terms to the beer conversation: hope and agency. We all know what hope means, but in our context, the term agency refers to the level of intention, confidence, and ability to follow various pathways toward the desired future. In addition to reporting the news, The Taster Tray strives to report on hope and agency. These days, the lack of hope and agency in journalism is driving many people away from the news and deeper into uninformed, or misinformed, darkness.

We look at it this way: the news is not only about the rising cost of hops and barley, but the news is also about what people are doing to address the situation. It's not just about how breweries are struggling, the news is also about how breweries are meeting the challenges and following various pathways towards the desired future. Not looking through rose-colored glasses, not blowing sunshine up your skirt, but remembering to look for hope and agency.

The goal at The Taster Tray is not just to share the news, but also to help the craft beer industry move successfully towards the desired future.

More or less, people are drinking more or less craft beer

In general, would you say that you are drinking more craft beer or less craft beer than you were a year ago? That's one of the questions the Brewers Association asked consumers in a recently conducted poll. Turns out, the number of respondents replying "less" is equal to the number replying "more." Dating back to 2015, the "more" responders have always outnumbered the "less" responders, as the graph below shows.

The Brewers Association recently conducted its annual Harris Poll to ask craft beer consumers about their buying and drinking habits. Last week, the Chief Economist at the Brewers Association, Bart Watson, offered some insights and analysis regarding the results.

According to Watson, the top reason craft consumers gave for drinking less craft beer is that they were drinking more of something else. The second most common reason, people said they're looking to lead healthier lifestyles that involve less alcohol consumption. Next, some of the "less" respondents said they were looking to reduce caloric intake. A smaller number of respondents said they were drinking less craft beer because it had become too expensive and/or they had less disposable income.

“You can’t control inflation, [but] you can control how your brand is positioned relative to other beverage-alcohol offerings. That gives some agency back to brewery owners as you’re thinking about the challenges and the headwinds that craft faces, that the number one challenge is still that people are thinking more of something else.”

Bart Watson, Chief Economist at the Brewers Association.

There's that word again. Agency.

The poll revealed some other interesting stuff about consumer habits and the contemporary craft beer consumer. You can read more about it all on Brewbound (paywalled). For now, let’s focus on one of the things Watson talked about: the shrinking number of craft consumers who care about the idea of drinking "local."

According to Watson, Millennials were quite interested in supporting local products from local companies. Millennials and their consumer attitudes helped fuel craft beer growth in recent decades. As Gen Z comes of age and is starting to make up a larger portion of the consumer base, they bring different values to the table. Gen Z cares more about causes and less about zip codes. They are more likely to gravitate towards products from companies with whom they share values. Apparently, for them, "local" on its own is not a value.

It’s not enough for Gen Zers to think of your business as a brewery, taproom, or bar in their neighborhood. They want to know that yours is a business committed to causes about which they care, a business with which they share ideals. You cannot control what values and ideals are important to consumers, but you can work to better understand what it is that matters to those consumers. Also, we need to do a better job of communicating our values and ideals. Likely, we can find some common ground and Gen Z will come to know that craft beer is more than local beer.

This week's Taster Tray was composed by Kendall Jones.