A slump in sales has the beer industry quaking in its 16 ounce boots. Beer consumption in the United States has dropped by 3 percent since 2015, which is about equivalent to every legal-age person drinking a gallon less beer per year. Industry analysts looking for someone to blame for the “beer slump” found an unsurprising culprit: young people.
Millennials have been blamed for declines in everything from Thanksgiving turkeys and American cheese to golf and diamonds, and they’re sick of it. The oldest millennials are now approaching their 40s, so shifts in the casual drinking market likely come down to changing preferences of young millennials and the oldest members of Gen Z, who are now in their 20s.
Analysts say that young people are shirking the classic American drink because they’re focused on living healthier lifestyles. And it might not all be about feeling fit — there’s pressure on social media to project a certain image, and clean living is very “in.”
Calorie-conscious consumers have a wealth of options. Spiked seltzers like White Claw boast a gluten-free base and accessible flavor for beginning drinkers. White Claw in particular caught on this summer with memes like “aint no laws when you’re drinking Claws.” Americans drank more White Claw in the first half of 2019 than in the entirety of 2018, making its market growth faster than Guinness, Corona Light and every craft beer but Blue Moon Belgian White (which has been aided by the orange slice garnish).
Marijuana also offers a calorie-free way to unwind that’s becoming more widely, and legally, available.
Historically, consumers’ alcohol preferences have followed a predictable life cycle. Cheap beer at college parties gave way to better beer and wines as people entered the workforce. Then, those were replaced by higher-end liquor as a person’s palette — and income — matured. A change in beer consumption may have ripple effects for years if young consumers decide they don’t need to bother acquiring a taste for it now.
But the beer industry is still trying to keep young consumers’ attention. Big beer is trying to catch the wellness wave by emphasizing healthfully made, low-calorie options, like the 110 calorie Bud Light that clearly advertises its “four essential ingredients: water, barley, rice, hops.”
The proliferation of independent breweries also means more innovation in craft beer. The next big things might be soft-drink beer hybrids or CBD-infused brews. What’s clear is that the American beer industry won’t go down without a fight.