How will Big Beer go about attracting a new demographic?

How will Big Beer go about attracting a new demographic?

Big beer in the US resembles the Republican Party. Unfashionable, waning in popularity and needing to appeal to a new demographic. 

Okay, let's not get carried away: Volumes of major lager brands still dwarf those of craft brews. But, the on-going creep of craft beer on to the major players' turf is starting to provoke an increasing level of action.

In the latest development, Anheuser-Busch InBev revealed this week that it is establishing its own US craft beer advisory board. The board, due to meet quarterly, will benefit from the experience of Goose Island founder John Hall, who is stepping down as CEO at the brewer along with COO Tony Bowker.

Paul Chibe, A-B's US marketing VP, who will also sit on the board, told just-drinks that Hall and Bowker will “help A-B navigate industry trends and provide valuable insights into the craft consumer”. Chibe said the reason for the board being established was to “help develop A-B's long-term vision and strategy for the craft segment”. 

This comes just a week after the company confirmed it is launching a new 6% dark variant of Budweiser – Black Crown, no doubt partly spurred by the success of Bud Light Platinum, launched almost exactly a year ago. Clearly, the group has woken up to the challenges it faces with its core brands, and the opportunities new variants offer. 

As for its major US rival, MillerCoors, it detected the threat slightly earlier. Two years ago the company launched a standalone craft and import beer business, Tenth & Blake (nicely artisanal sounding) to tap into demand for craft beers. It also has the Blue Moon wheat beer brand and earlier this year trialled a small batch amber lager in San Francisco.

Some would argue these moves are long overdue. Earlier this year, analyst Trevor Stirling of Bernstein Research claimed that major beer brands had been “asleep at the wheel” for the last 20 years, as they'd ignored the consumer trend towards fruitier, sweeter drinks, like cider. Stirling also said the the threat of the spirits category had been ignored. “Their biggest competitors weren't each other, their biggest competitor was spirits,” he said. 

Which brings me back to my political analogy. An online poll this week suggested brewers must do more to target the US' fast-growing Hispanic population, and young spirits drinkers, to retain its top spot as the country's drink of choice. Sounds familiar, bearing in mind Mitt Romney's defeat two week ago. According to the poll's results, Hispanics have a “less strong preference for beer”, with an equal taste for spirits, compared to caucasian Americans. The other target must, of course, also be women. But how beer shakes off its “fattening” label is the holy grail of advertising.

Perhaps 'Big Beer' would be wise to follow how the Republican Party sets about attracting a new demographic – once the internal recriminations from its election defeat die down. Or, as big businesses now feel more powerful than any government, perhaps the US right-wing will take a look at brewers' efforts.