May 202014
 

Craft Beverage Expo

Last week, I attended the first Craft Beverage Expo (#CBE14) in San Jose, California. It was a conference devoted to the production and marketing of craft beverages, including beer, wine, cider, and spirits. I won’t go into the details about the conference, but I did want to address some of the thoughts that came to me during the event.

 

First, what are craft beverages? This question was raised several times during the conference. I think that most of the participants accepted that it meant a product made by smallish, independent brewers and distillers. I think the wine business looks at it a different way. They don’t really use the term ‘craft’ in their messaging. It’s usually boutique, small-lot, etc. to most winemakers. Regardless, wine definitely fits in with this group, facing many of the same challenges and benefiting from much the same market environment.

 

Second, I deeply believe that each of the separate beverage sectors can benefit from each other. While it’s becoming more common for wineries/breweries to blur the lines and produce both wine and beer, the sectors still remain fairly separate. Call it competition or regulation or focus, no matter what, breweries, wineries, and distilleries haven’t always played nice. I believe that is changing, however, as demonstrated by the sheer existence if this conference.

 

Third, the wine business has a head start on craft brewers and distillers. While it’s possible to ship or sell wine direct-to-consumer in many states now, or even to allow samples in tasting rooms, many brewers and distillers still lack that ability. That is slowly changing as legislatures have begun to open new avenues for them, but wineries have a clear lead. Craft brewers and distillers could benefit greatly from observing what has and hasn’t worked for wineries in their own struggles to compete.

 

Finally, wineries better watch out. As craft brewers and distillers gain experience and grow, they could eat away at wine’s market share. I think we are already seeing this, especially among millennials. Wineries will either have to adapt the way they market their products, or join the band wagon and start producing beer and spirits to offset their losses.

 

The good news is that the upsurge in craft beverage production offers consumers more choice and freedom to seek out new and interesting experiences. They are no longer confined to Dewers, Bacardi, Budweiser, and Coors. The future looks bright.

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