US beer sales fell by 2.2%, or about 5.1 million barrels, in 2009. But according to The Beer Association, craft brewers - also known as micro-brewers - increased their unit sales by 7.2% and dollar sales by 10.3%.
Craft brewers still have a small share of the overall beer market - 4.3% by volume and 6.9% by revenue. But since 2004 craft brewer sales have increased roughly 66% versus under 5% for large brewers, leading to steady share gains for small brewers.
As the Beer Association chart on the right shows, the number of craft brewers also increased in 2009, and is at its highest level since before prohibition. This happened despite industry consolidation resulting in 2 global companies - SAB and InBev - controlling over 80% of the U.S. beer market.
We've posted in the past on the beer industry and often point to it as an example of a barbell industry structure. This structure consists of a few giant corporation on one end, relatively few mid-sized businesses and a large and growing number of small businesses. It is a structure we are seeing in a wide variety of industries.
There are many reasons for the growth of craft beers. Deregulation, the Internet and the lower costs associated with starting and running a small brewery all have played a role.
But according to one craft brewer it's consumer demand for niche products that is driving the growth of craft brewers. The following quote is from a CNN Money article on the success of craft brewers:
"There's an overall trend in the U.S. for people to speak out for better quality stuff in general -- foods, wine, beer, clothes, produce -- and more local products," agreed Metzger. "That's typically what's embodied by the craft brewery."