The US could be on the cusp of a beer renaissance, according to leading investment bank Goldman Sachs.
An improving employment market combined with improved innovation and marketing, could see US beer volumes enjoy a substantial recovery.
Over the past 15 years, wine and spirits have been making most of the running when it comes to US alcohol consumption. A large part of this growth has been driven by innovation.
Innovation has allowed the wines and spirits to break into what have traditionally been seen as beer drinking occasions. A prime reason for this trend has been the rise in flavours. In 2012, close to half of all spirits brought to market were flavoured.
However, beer has rapidly been closing the gap, with a 250 per cent increase in the number of new products launched since 2008. The beer industry has also hiked its media spend during the period.
Goldman point to three major reasons why the giants of the beer industry are set for a comeback.
Millennial penchant for flavours
The beer industry has taken note of the millennial consumer's taste for flavoured alcohol. Historically wines and spirits have outclassed beer in this regard, breaking into traditional beer drinking occasions by launching new flavour extensions, improving availability and developing new packaging.
However, US beer is finally moving with the times, gaining ground against its historically more agile competitors. Meaningful growth is taking place amongst both the sweet drinks such as cider, and the more bitter beers such as India Pale Ale. There is also greater potential for the big beer companies to expand their market share by seizing upon the growing popularity of flavours, instead of attempting to expand through the more traditional methods of high-end offerings.
The recent innovations of fruity beers and shandys are also proving a hit among US drinkers, with prominent examples being ABI's Shock Top Lemon Shandy and SAM's Porch Rocker. The re-emergence of cider is proving particularly attractive for the industry's biggest players, as it offers an alternative to beer that is both flavoured and premium. In 2013, the US cider industry grew a whopping 100 per cent, albeit from a small base.
But as the most homogenous part of the alcohol segment, it remains unlikely that beer will see levels of flavour innovation that has been seen in spirits.
Innovation is king
Beer company Molson Coors comes in for particular praise from Goldman after upping its game on the innovation side. Instead of sticking to new packaging and line extensions, the company introduced Redd's Apple, which proved highly successful. The new brew benefitted from being both flavoured and above-premium. Instead of creating a spin-off for the company's above-premium lager, Molson Coors introduced Third Shift, which has also enjoyed encouraging results.
Goldman believe the pipeline of 2014 innovation is one of the best yet, with the introduction Redd’s Wicked Ale, following on from Redd’s Apple and Strawberry Ale, Third Shift session IPA, Smith & Forge (a new cider brand) and Coors Light Summer Brew. This string of innovative drinks have been strongly targeted at wine and spirits occasions, which has often translated into higher alcohol content products.
Molson Coors focus on the high end
Molton Coors has taken on board the severe declines in mainstream beer segments and has indicated a desire to change its portfolio for greater exposure in the faster growing, higher price, above-premium segment. The company's volume in the high-end has has risen to nine per cent, from 5.3 per cent in 2010. Goldman expect this trend to continue if not accelerate in the coming years.