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Data: Spirits outpace beer for US market-share supremacy
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Producers of spirits have new bragging rights in the age-old whiskey-versusbeer barroom debate.
New figures show that spirits surpassed beer for U.S. market-share supremacy, based on supplier revenues, a spirit industry group announced Thursday.
The rise to the top for spirit-makers was fueled in part by the resurgent cocktail culture — including the growing popularity of ready-to-drink concoctions — as well as strong growth in the tequila and American whiskey segments, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States said.
In 2022, spirits gained market share for the 13th straight year in the fiercely competitive U.S. beverage alcohol market, as its supplier sales reached 42.1%, the council said.
After years of steady growth, it marked the first time that spirit supplier revenues have surpassed beer — but just barely, the spirit industry group said. Beer holds a 41.9% market share, it said.
“Despite the tough economy, consumers continued to enjoy premium spirits and fine cocktails in 2022,” Distilled Spirits Council President and CEO Chris Swonger said.
Overall spirit supplier sales in the U.S. were up 5.1% in 2022 to a record $37.6 billon, the group said. Volumes rose 4.8% to 305 million 9-liter cases.
Seemingly unfazed, Brian Crawford, president and CEO of the Beer Institute, insisted that beer “remains America’s No. 1 choice in beverage alcohol.”
“It’s interesting to hear liquor companies boast about making money handover-fist while simultaneously going state-to-state hunting for more tax carveouts from state legislatures,” he said in a statement.
Benj Steinman, president of Beer Marketer’s Insights, a leading beer industry trade publication, said the beer industry saw unprecedented growth in the 1970s, growing at a pace of 4% annually. As recently as 2000, beer’s share in the alcohol market was 58%.
Over the past several decades, beer’s growth has essentially been flat. Meanwhile, spirits have flourished, especially over the past two decades.
“I think there’s just a long arc on these things,” Steinman said.
Steinman and Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, a craft beer industry trade group, agreed there are several reasons for the shift.
“Some of it’s just the younger generation coming up, looking for a lot of variety,” Steinman said. “They sometimes like spirits. Cocktail culture is another thing.”
Watson cited data showing that liquor has become 20% cheaper relative to beer in recent decades.
“Price is a particularly large part of the story,” he said.
Another factor is advertising and marketing. Watson pointed to the success of spirits in its outreach to women. Steinman said distilled spirits now advertise freely, something they didn’t do generations ago.
“They’ve increased their availability. They’ve increased their ability to advertise. They’ve had a lot of legislative and policy wins that have enabled growth for distilled spirits,” Steinman said.
For spirit producers, reaching the market share milestone was worth toasting. At Baltimore Spirits Company in Maryland, the head distiller and the manager of its cocktail bar said they are pleased with the rise in the consumption.
Eli Breitburg-Smith, head distiller and co-founder, said the firm’s founders saw a space in the market for rye whiskey as consumer demand was growing.
“We did see that it was going to be on the rise,” he said. “Now, I don’t know that we thought it would be overtaking beer or anything like that, but we felt like there was a good space in the market for new whiskey, original whiskey, and people that ... were making a unique product.”