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As the once foaming growth rates of the micro segment are getting inevitably reacquainted with the laws of gravity, craft in mature markets will increasingly adopt the ‘Independent ‘moniker while democratising its offerings to appeal to a mass market beyond its core aficionados.
Sessionable, light, brand-led and low abv products will provide more accessible alternatives to mainstream lager doubling down on its approachability as taprooms and nano scale production will continue on the path of the segment’s once booming legacy. On the other hand, mid-sized and comparatively larger microbrewers will face an increasingly uphill battle against the backdrop of casualties and acquisitions that will cement the segment’s coming of age.
But the much contested c-word is not only relevant to hip metropolitan neighbourhoods in the UK or the US anymore. In fact, the next craft frontiers from Vietnam to Shanghai will shift the segment’s seismic epicentre towards emerging markets – in the process opening up a cornucopia of cross pollination opportunities, collaborations and radical experimentation.
Perhaps the reports of craft’s death have been greatly exaggerated after all.
While the quest for authenticity and pushing the boundaries of flavour, mouthfeel and fermentation will remain at the forefront of innovative developments, the spotlight will shift further away from the mono-dimensional fetishisation of hops.
Cloudy and hazy extensions, ‘pastry’ and breakfast stouts, culinary inspired launches and food pairing initiatives, grape ale hybrids and hoptails – radical flavour sophistication and pushing innovation barriers will define a category that has correctly identified the promiscuous nature of its core demographics and is willing to evolve alongside their palates.
Bringing aromatic rather than overwhelmingly bittering agents to the fore while at the same time introducing emerging nations thirsty for sophistication to niche styles that have already established a following in western markets – such as wheat beer to China- will all spearhead the next chapter in beer’s evolution.
And since the battle will now rage both internally against erstwhile allies and externally against adjacent segments, coopetition initiatives and diversification will become more important than diatribes on obscure hop varieties.
Convenience, facilitating impulse buying decisions and focusing on occasions rather than the narrow and inflexible category blinkers of the past will impact the way beer positions itself against the backdrop of ever diminishing brand equity.
A strong online presence – historically hugely underdeveloped compared to other industries- , investment in fast and reliable delivery services, voluntary disclosure initiatives providing nutritional info and embracing transparency through ‘best by’ labelling and ingredient breakdowns will favour macro offerings but independent producers will also be forced to catch up .
Crowdsourced ratings will continue democratising criticism and improving visibility but the need for eclectic curators and a trustworthy, authoritative voice to cut through the noise will increasingly be in demand as decision fatigue settles in.