Ronald den Elzen, president and CEO at Heineken USA, said the
industry has lost 35 million barrels of beer in the past 20 years
as result of competition from wine and spirits. "Every consumer
today drinks on average one bottle of beer less per week than they
did 20 years ago," he said. "If this is not a wake-up call that we
have to do something, I don't know what is."
"Wine and spirits are not sitting still and marijuana is being
legalized in many states across the country," he added. "We have to
act now and we have to do it together."
But the paradox is that by some measures, beer looks healthy.
The craft beer revolution has driven new interest in small brands
and led to a dizzying array of styles, reaching far beyond the
yellow-tinted light lagers that have long dominated.
As of the end of last year, 5,301 breweries operated in the
U.S., up from 2,475 in 2012, according to the Brewers Association.
And last week, some 60,000 people attended the Great American Beer
Festival in Denver, with tickets selling out for the craft-beer
friendly event in four hours.
Still, even craft beer sales have slowed. Production volume in
the first half of the year grew 5 percent, which is shy of the 8
percent growth pace at the same time last year, according to the
But big brands carry most of the blame for the beer industry's
volume woes. The four largest brands—Bud Light, Coors Light,
Bud and Miller Lite—collectively fell more than 4.5 percent
in volume in the nine months ending Sept. 30, according to Nielsen
figures cited by Beer Marketer's Insights. "How can the industry
turn around with its top four brands that are almost 40% of biz
collectively declining at mid-single digit rate?" the trade
publication asked in a report this week.
In his speech, Heineken's den Elzen suggested more industry-wide
cooperation in the U.S. to improve beer's image. He pointed to a
campaign that European brewers have collaborated on called "Love
Beer" that tries to shatter negative beer stereotypes, including
that it is only for middle-aged guys with beer bellies. The
European ads make direct appeals to women. "Europe is not the U.S.,
but we have the same issues over here. We cannot solve this alone,"
Castro Neves also called for raising beer's sophistication level
by linking it to fashion and culture, while using unique glassware.
He also suggested more food-and-beer pairing programs. And he said
beer should be "alert to emerging trends."
"Beer can appeal to the health conscious, fitness-minded
consumer in a way that spirits and wine cannot, or it would be
difficult for them," he said. "Imagine you are coming in from a
hard run, a hard bike. You wipe the sweat off. You want to
celebrate your hard work with something lighter and more
refreshing. What do you think of? Beer."
That insight is fueling the marketing for brewer's low-calorie
Michelob Ultra brand, which has enjoyed strong growth in recent
years. A new ad for the brand "directly addresses the misperception
that wine is always the healthier option." The spot, below, is by