The recent closure of Anchor Brewing rocked the beer world. What craft beer industry challenges are on the horizon.
The beer world was rocked by the recent closure of Anchor Brewing. For years, American beer has been in its renaissance, with an explosion of local and regional breweries. This was in stark contrast to the dominance of large brands in the ’80s and ’90s. Craft beer was the star of this change, surging in popularity in the 2010s. Anchor, with its storied history of over a century, stood out, symbolizing the drift from giants like Coors and Anheuser-Busch towards diverse and quality brews. For many, Anchor’s beer was their initiation into the craft beer culture.
However, as its rise mirrored the ascent of craft beer, Anchor’s shutdown suggests a possible decline in the sector. The craft beer market, after flourishing for years, seems to be oversaturated. The recent dip in craft beer sales, with an 8% volume drop between February 2022 to February 2023, could be a precursor to further declines.
While I have fond memories of Anchor during my early beer exploration days, it’s been years since I last had one. The constant influx of new beers made me gravitate towards new options. But over time, the allure of continuously trying new brews waned. The expanse of choices became overwhelming. This sentiment seems to resonate across the nation, as evidenced by the decline in craft beer sales.
Interestingly, mid-sized regional beers, which are often found in city liquor shops or spread across states, bore the brunt of this decline. These breweries, larger than microbreweries but not as vast as international giants, are in a tricky spot. They face fierce competition in a contracting market.
The sheer number of breweries further complicates matters. From fewer than 1,500 breweries in the U.S. two decades ago, the count has now soared close to 10,000. It’s evident that saturation is inevitable with such numbers.
Craft beer’s evolution has undoubtedly enhanced the drinking scene in America. However, like any business sector, after rapid growth, there’s often a stabilization or even contraction phase. Though craft beer has revolutionized American drinking habits, it’s bound to face challenges as it matures. The industry’s novelty-driven approach, always seeking the ‘next big thing’, may not be sustainable in the long run. The success of hard seltzers and ready-to-drink canned cocktails underscores this notion.
While several factors played into Anchor’s downfall, including its 2017 acquisition by Sapporo and the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects, the intensively competitive market was a significant challenge. Becoming a national brand, like what Anchor aspired to be, requires striking a balance between uniqueness and widespread appeal. Few have managed this feat.
However, it’s essential to remember that craft beer’s story isn’t a doom-filled one. While the closure of a long-standing brewery like Anchor is saddening, the industry still has potential. Local brands and brewpubs are thriving, ensuring craft beer’s continued presence. But a shift in strategy might be required. The thrill of the ‘new’ can sustain for only so long. Breweries might need to focus on becoming household staples, and with Anchor’s fate as a reminder, the road ahead might be challenging.