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Broadening the consumer base.

Beer, the beverage of moderation, deserves a larger place in society

The year 1991 witnessed a two-percent drop in U.S. beer sales, the latest unremarkable sales figure in a decade marked by flat sales. For purposes of comparison, beer sales in 1981 (including exports, but not imports) comprised 179,500,000 barrels. Ten years later, sales stand at 185,420,000. A 3.3-percent increase over 10 years is better than a decline, but doesn't indicate much progress.

Market share of the different players has shifted, of course, but for all intents and purposes, American brewers are just reslicing the pie. Most alarmingly, that pie may even be starting to shrink.

Per capita consumption ended a long, gradual climb in the 1980s as it leveled of in the neighborhood of 22 gallons. While this is high when placed in context with U.S. figures from earlier in the country, the fact remains that Americans are not world-class beer consumers.

In matter of fact, our paltry efforts at beer drinking are surpassed by a dozen other countries. The Czechoslovakians, Germans, Danes, Belgians, Australians, and Luxembourgers all do yeoman service with their mugs. By their standards, Americans are pikers.

The reason for this discrepancy will be plain to anyone who has spent any time in Europe (or Australia, for that matter). Beer has become a strong part of the culture in these countries, and as a result, social situation often revolve around beer.

In Germany, gentleman gathering for a power breakfast would not be averse to ordering liter steins of helles. Czechoslovakian newspaper writers might repair to the local beer hall for launch, and quaff more than few pilseners. English families "go to pub" for the evening together, and share mugs of bitter.

That is not to say that America would be a better place if we consumed beer morning, noon and night. However, beer could be promoted, on its merits, as the preferred drink for social situations.

Beer is the beverage of moderation. There is a relatively modest percentage of alcohol by volume in a beer. This allows the consumption of a single beer with little appreciable effect on motor function.

And, as studies are beginning to show, moderate quantities of alcohol can provide health benefits. Although a recent "60 Minutes" report would imply that red wine is a wonder cure for heart disease, medical studies do not distinguish between wine and beer. Both can promote a healthy heart by generating high-density lipoproteins. It is only in excess that alcohol begins to have a deleterious effect.

Beer, then, is good for you. The market for such a moderate, beneficial tonic would seem to be unlimited. In this context, it seems odd that the American beer market seems to have reached a plateau.

In Europe, beer is a beverage that crosses lines of age and gender. It is possible that American methods of promoting beer have ignored areas of the population that might embrace beer.

As our population ages, it may be that commercials showing young people frolicking on beaches will appeal to a smaller cross-section of the populace. If beer were promoted as a beverage for a broader age group, it might improve beer's relatively unsophisticated image.

Just as promotions could reach out to a broader age group, they could aim for a less gender-specific image. Maleoriented promotions might be effectively balanced by an equal volume of female-oriented promotions.

The production of more diverse brand portfolios might also enhance the image of beer. American commercial breweries produce large numbers of brand, but they encompass a very narrow slice of the beer-style spectrum.

Imports and microbrews enjoy considerable popularity, but not all can afford to pay the going rate for a six-pack of a boutique beer. American breweries have the economies of scale to produce unique beers of any style at reasonable cost. In Europe, beer style crosses class boundaries. In America, there is no reason specialty beer should be a product for the Affluent.

If the American beer marketers could reach out to the vast segments of the population that have thus far proven resistant to beer's allure, annual barrelage figures would look very different.

Americans will probably never drink as much beer per capita as the Czechoslovakians or Germans, but if we can just work our way up to the level of the doughty Luxembourgers, American brewers will have to work overtime just to keep up.
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Title Annotation:1991 Statistical Study: Issues & Trends; beer's market share
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 16, 1992
Previous Article:Forever Yuengling.
Next Article:The year in review.

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