Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
A Vancouver Sun article yesterday about a Statistics Canada report on the sale of alcoholic beverages in Canada talked about beer being the top choice of Canadians, albeit with a declining market share, while red wine sales have doubled since 2000 (article had a photo of a blonde drinking white wine!). This, however, doesn’t tell the whole story of beer consumption in BC because only generalized statistics categorizing beer into domestic and import are being reported.
One gets a more complete picture from sales figures reported by the BC Liquor Distribution Board. From April 2008 to September 2008, bottled beer sales in BC increased by 4.16% overall. Figures for the different sales categories are:
Large: 1.24% +
Regional: 2.06% +
Cottage: 32.49% +
Import: 13.2% +
So while mass market beer sales are rather flat, craft (cottage) beer sales in BC are growing much more than all other segments. Gerry Erith, manager of Brewer Creek Liquor Store in Vancouver, sees a divergence in the beer market: the price conscious and the quality conscious. Those looking for cheap beer will be attracted to products from Pacific Western Brewing, Bowen Island, Shaftebury, Molson, and Labatt. Those more interested in flavour & variety will opt for Cannery, Howe Sound, Phillips, R&B, Tree, etc. They are willing to pay more for a better beer, but don’t need to drink as much to be satisfied. Hence, as more people buy craft beer, I expect per capita beer consumption to go down, which is what has been happening. The difficult segment to be in is mid-market as those products are more than what the price conscious are usually willing to pay but not interesting or flavourful enough for the aficionados.
Could craft beer do better in the market? Aside from the perceived health benefits of red wine, I think there are a couple other factors that explain why beer is losing market share to wine — knowledge and marketing.
There is a lot more coverage of wine in the mainstream media than beer. The major newspapers have weekly wine columns; not one has a beer column (not that there is a lack of anything going on in the craft beer world). As an example of how slim the coverage of BC beer is, a new brewery opened in Comox recently. While it was covered in the town’s local paper and in this blog, there was not a word of it in the Victoria Times Colonist, The Province, or The Vancouver Sun. This is no piddly brewery either. With an investment of $2 million dollars, they aim to sell their beer throughout BC. It also is a good story of an entrepreneur finding a way out of the forest industry sinking boat without laying off all his workers. I doubt the opening of a new winery would escape notice.
So with the average person getting next to no information about their own craft breweries, beer styles, beer & food pairing, and the industry’s movers & shakers, how could one become interested in the possibilities of beer, never mind even knowing that there are any?
And of the information widely available, the majority of it is industrial beer advertising. Is it any surprise, then, that BC’s top-selling brands closely correlate with those most heavily advertised? And what is the substance of the majority of that messaging? Beer, sports, and men. What a great way to limit the appeal of your product, especially if the imagery is blatantly sexist. This doesn’t appeal to a large number of women, so they will choose something that has a more sophisticated, inclusive image. That’s a shame because it isn’t as if women don’t like beer. Many think they don’t, but actually haven’t gone beyond the beer that they didn’t like to find one that they do. That’s typically a fruit beer, wheat beer, or chocolatey stout to start off with. (I actually had a woman kiss me after trying an Old Yale Sasquatch Stout for the first time.)
Given people’s growing interest in gastronomy and the hospitality industry’s efforts to put BC on the global culinary map, it’s no surprise our wine industry has progressed so tremendously over the last two decades. We’ve seen the same with an evolving coffee culture and, recently, a nascent cocktail revival. Therefore, it makes sense people have a growing interest in BC craft beer. Given the myriad of styles available beyond American lager and pale ale, there’s a lot of scope for discovery. Let’s hope our media start catching on and get people excited about what our local brewers are doing. This is an opportunity being missed.