Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Demand Out-Distancing Supply at Times in the Growing Craft Beer Market

Has anyone else been having problems lately finding their favourite craft beers when they want them?

Over the past several months I have had the frustrating experience, on several occasions, of walking into a liquor store to pick up a few of my favourite local craft brews only to find an empty spot on the shelf where that they usually sit indicating that they were sold out with no hopes of restocking until their next delivery. Often it has not been just one brand that is sold out and I am forced to purchase my third or fourth choice, leaving the store with a distinct feeling of disappointment.

It has not just been in the liquor stores  where I have been experiencing this drinkus interuptus. I have found that some of the more popular local craft brews are becoming hard to keep in stock and it is not a given that I will be able to sip on a sleeve of my favourite brew in my restaurant/bar of choice, even if that beer is one of their "regular" taps, which pisses me off at times when I have made a specific trip to that location to drink that beer.

It is not that these beers are particularly hard to find. In fact, over the past few years it has become increasingly easier to find craft beers in Vancouver with more and more restaurants, bars and liquor stores carrying these locally-crafted gems. But as these beers have become more available, more and more craft beer aficionados are discovering and drinking them which is causing the supply-demand issues I have been experiencing.

There can be no argument that craft beer popularity in this city is on the rise. The latest BC Liquor Distribution statistics, from their March Quarterly Market Report shows that despite the fact that overall domestic beer sales are down 9.2% in this province over the past 12 months, sales for smaller breweries, those producing less than 150,000 HL, usually the segment of the brewing world that produces craft beers, are up 7% for draft and a whopping 30.5% for packaged products!! The market share for these breweries has increased from approximately 13% in the LDB's December report to 15% in March. These smaller breweries in BC have taken their market share from 7% in 2007 to the current 15%.

Yes, it looks like more and more beer drinkers are choosing local, quality brews over mass-produced swill. Samson is sticking it to Goliath a little in the BC beer market but here-in lies the problem, I believe.

Local brewers are creating world-class beers which are growing in popularity because they are superior, quality products. Craft beer sales are increasing, as the stats show us, which has more and more establishments, the non-traditional craft beer bars, restaurants and liquor stores, seeing dollar signs and bringing these beers in to increase sales by riding the wave of craft beer popularity. Traditional craft beer spots are becoming more and more popular, are attracting larger crowds more consistently and are selling more and more craft beers on a daily basis.

Breweries, seeing dollar signs, are selling as much as they can in this quaffing frenzy that is the Vancouver craft beer scene. But the problem is, they are, in some cases, out-selling their supply lines, leaving sales reps scrambling to keep all their customers in beer all the time. It is a juggling act for some of the sales folk for the more popular local breweries, as they attempt the impossible of supplying more beer than their breweries have the capacity to produce.

I am happy that these breweries are finally getting the recognition they deserve and are slowly taking a larger bit out of the local beer market, but I wish they would slow down slightly and realize they are at capacity and should not expand their market any further until they expand their operations. Some do have expansion plans, to help keep pace with demands, while others are capping sales, happy with their current size and market share. It will be interesting to see if more breweries are able to open, to help fill the gaps left by more demand than supply.

Only time will tell if this problem will correct itself. I hope the brewery owners realize this craze will stick and soon will just become the norm as craft beer continues to increase it's sales and the consumer base. I believe now is the time for careful planning, not greed. Expanding into new markets, both in the non-traditional spots in the city and geographically across Canada and into the US is great, but not at the expense of those who have supported the beers since Day One, when sales were difficult.

Don't over-sell your beer please. There is no point selling to X amount of liquor stores, restaurants and bars when you can only keep Y amount stocked, leaving the others sitting with empty taps and shelves. You may not care that I have been experiencing this frustration, but eventually, if the situation continues, or gets worse, myself and others will begin to find alternatives and there are many out there as US-based craft brews find their way increasingly into the local market.

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