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Consumer choice: imported beers add diversity to the marketplace.

Imported beers add diversity to the marketplace.

American consumers like choice. And, when it comes to beer, they get it. The American beer drinker is in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose from the world's finest beers, and having to travel no farther than the corner store to get them. Few societies can avail their consumers with this range of selection.

The wide availability of imported beers in the U.S. is a testament not only to the efforts of importers, but to the remarkable efficiency of the U.S. distribution system. Soon after it hits the dock, beer brewed on distant continents is efficiently whisked off to distributor warehouses all over the country, and thence to the retailer.

This distribution system has channeled imported beer into every part of the country, providing more diverse selections for the consumer.

It is ironic that the very trends that imports helped set in motion are now making the market more competitive, and less hospitable to international brews.

When the domestic brewery consolidations of recent decades eliminated many choices from the beer industry repertoire, inquisitive consumers were forced to look farther afield for new and different brands. The imports helped put diversity and choice back in the picture. The import boom of the early '80s had at its heart those consumers who were looking for distinctive products. Products that were above all - different.

Consumers voted with their dollars, and imports enjoyed a tremendous surge in popularity. Hundreds of brands were imported, from every corner of the globe. At the height of the import boom, many believed that imports would ultimately hold 10 percent of the U.S. market.

Domestic producers have caught up with the trend, however, and there is no longer a dearth of domestic choices. From the micro to the big national players, U.S. brewers have launched unprecedented numbers of new products and packages to sate this demand.

Although this new competitiveness has caused sales erosion for imports, there is no doubt import brands still have a role to play in the U.S. market.

For customers seeking the true beer drinking experience of a foreign country, only an authentic beer will do. Whether dining in an ethnic restaurant or eating exotic cuisines at home, the proper international beer adds the right accent.

Imports also offer the consumer a range of beer styles that domestic brewers can't yet match. These beers provide a taste experience that would be otherwise unavailable. Although microbrewers are working to brew a broad variety of beer styles, it is difficult for these young breweries to match the force of tradition and skill that long-established breweries have accumulated. In addition, there remains something to be said for a pale ale brewed from actual Burton water or pilsener produced with the freshest Saaz hops.

Beyond that there are intangibles. As a case in point, when Guinness licensed their famous stout to a Brooklyn, NY, brewery during World War II, the experiment flourished only as long as the U-boats kept the authentic brew from crossing the Atlantic. Although the Brooklyn-brewed product was technically impeccable, this experiment sputtered and died as soon as true Irish stout became available once again.

Then, as now, customers want choice. Domestic brewers can produce a slew of excellent beers of many styles. But for those times when a customer wants a true German dopple-bock or a rich Belgian ale, sometimes nothing but the real thing will do.
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Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Jul 13, 1992
Previous Article:Market evolution.
Next Article:Playing the consumer game.

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