Due to COVID-19, breweries are registering nearly half as many new beers this year than they were in 2019, data shows.

By Mike Pomranz
June 22, 2020
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Over the past generation of beer drinkers, brand loyalty has fundamentally shifted. Time was, you had one favorite beer, you attempted to only drink that favorite beer, and you vehemently argued with people who had a different favorite beer. But modern beer lovers tend to be box tickers: The Untappd generation wants to check-in as many different beers as possible, and though they may still have favorite breweries, they’re more concerned about that brewer's newest release than revisiting their core lineup—assuming they even have a core lineup.

But the COVID-19 pandemic may be reversing this dynamic—at least temporarily. Last week, Sovos ShipCompliant—a company that helps alcohol brands comply with regulators—announced the brewers it works with had registered 43.4 percent fewer new products this April and May compared to the same period last year.

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“The closure of tasting rooms beginning in mid-March left many industry producers struggling to make ends meet. Breweries, in particular, appear to have rallied around their core products rather than investing in seasonal or limited releases, as a way to cut costs,” Larry Cormier, vice president, general manager of Sovos ShipCompliant, explained. “Craft beer innovation takes place in the taproom. With limited retail shelf space, many newer brewers focus on taproom sales rather than traditional distribution. So when tasting rooms closed, the newest and smallest brewers took the biggest hit.”

A coronavirus-related reduction in the number of new products was inevitable. Beyond cost cutting and a loss of taprooms as a sales outlet, a survey released in April from the trade group the Brewers Association found that nearly two-thirds of staff had been laid off from the breweries it polled, making brewing and selling anything more difficult. And assuming the suppliers these breweries work with were facing similar disruptions, sourcing ingredients and other materials was likely more difficult as well.

Meanwhile, the way people have been shopping has also changed. For instance, if you are trying to leave your house as little as possible, you might consider buying beer at the grocery store instead of making a second stop at a beer specialty store.  Likewise, the pandemic has hit many people financially—another reason shoppers may gravitate towards less expensive “core” beers instead of more expensive specialty offerings. And we’ve also seen a documented increase in the purchase of “comfort” brands during stay-at-home order, as people are reverting to the familiar.

All of these factors help explain why classic beers are seeing a resurgence. The industry site Brewbound explains that Sierra Nevada Pale Ale—the beer that helped kick off the craft beer movement 40 years ago—is seeing double-digit sales growth for the first time in years.

But that’s not to say it’s time to give up on your favorite small craft breweries and start drinking Busch Light. Quite the opposite actually: Small breweries need our help now more than ever; thousands are at risk of closing if we don’t continue to support them. Instead, if craft beer box-ticking is your game, maybe it’s time to settle down for a bit and find that one beer you love from your favorite local brewery and turn it into your beer of the summer? It’ll make the brewery’s life easier. It’ll make your life easier (just ask your grandpa who hasn’t drunk anything besides Miller Lite since 1988). And though, yes, you may be missing out on some new beers, based on the statistics cited above, you won’t be missing out on as many new beers as before.