Business of Beer: Imports Gain, Microbrews Rebound

ByABC News
March 28, 2001, 2:32 PM

March 30 -- Twenty years ago, most consumers of imported beer were beer connoisseurs and foreigners.

But today, 10 percent of the American beer market is imported, and consumers from every economic, social and cultural group are enjoying the brews.

Imported beer is the fastest growing segment of the American beer market, nearly doubling in market share during the 1990s.

A Taste of Best Beers

Another segment of the beverage industry is also bubbling. The business of craft brewing, or domestic specialty brewing, is reemerging from a period of flat and lower sales in 1998 and 1999.

While the craft beer industry amounts to just about 3 percent of the total U.S. beer market, sales increased 4.1 percent in 2000, double the 2.0 percent increase in 1999, reports the Institute for Brewing Studies. As of November 2000 there are 1,654 microbreweries, brew pubs and regional specialty breweries in North America.

From Craft to Imports

Microbrews also broke a path for imports. The introduction of microbrews during the last 10 years left people craving a fuller taste and led them to experiment with imports, which tend to taste more robust than standard American beers. That's when many began turning to imported beer.

Consumers also consider imports exotic and enjoy matching them with similar cuisine.

Guinness is among the brands which have enjoyed phenomenal growth, and company representative Carolyn Panzer says imports will continue to be successful.

"In the last couple of years, Guinness Stout sales have doubled in the U.S. This growth has come from mainstream beer drinkers adding imports to their repertoire," Panzer adds.

But despite the increasing success many imported brands are seeing, they face increasing competition from such American giants as Anheuser-Busch. The world's largest brewer, reported that international beer volume was up 2.7 percent in the third quarter to 28.3 million barrels.

The company continues to aggressively pursue international sales, implementing restructuring plans and introducing brands tailored to different countries in an effort to appeal to more consumers.