U.S. Beer Sales Down; Global Warming Threatens Supply

By Pan Demetrakakes, Senior Editor

Oct 16, 2018

U.S. beer sales are continuing to decline, and the stuff may soon get more expensive thanks to global warming.

Those are the conclusions of two different studies on current and future beer markets. An article in the scientific journal Nature Plants estimated that up to 17% of the world’s crop of barley, a heat-sensitive commodity, could be lost in the near future due to increasing temperatures.

Malted barley is the key ingredient in beer, ale and other alcoholic beverages. Worldwide, most of it is used as animal feed, but in the U.S., Brazil and China, at least two-thirds gets turned into alcohol.

The study says that at the current level of greenhouse gas emissions, the chance of global warming hurting barley production will increase to every other year by 2099.

Meanwhile, overall U.S. beer sales are continuing to edge downward, according to the annual Beer Handbook issued by the Beverage Information Group.

Total sales by volume fell 1.1%, to 6.3 billion gallons. The decline was steeper in major categories:

• Light beer, down 3.1% to 2.75 billion gallons;
• Popular beer, down 2.5% to 407 million gallons;
• Premium and super-premium beer, down 3.7% to 835.9 million gallons.

Craft and imported beer continued to grow in volume, as they have for years, but their rate of growth has slowed. Craft beer volume was up 4.9% to 697.5 million gallons, after growing 6% in each of the previous two years. Its market share was 11.1% in 2017, up from 10.4% in 2016 and 9.8% in 2015. Saturation of some markets may account for the slower growth in craft beer, the report says.

Imported beer was up 3.5% to 1.1 billion gallons, increasing its market share to 16.8% in 2017.