What are the demographics of craft lovers and how have those changed in recent years? As craft beer has grown, the total population of craft drinkers has certainly grown too, but has it diversified? How? Where?
Before we delve into these questions, remember that how we define our scope of inquiry shifts the answers we get. Is a craft drinker someone who drinks craft a few times a year? Someone who drinks it weekly? There isn’t a single correct answer. Similarly, although I’m going to talk in terms of national demographics, state or local demographics are going to vary a lot, both based on the population demographics in those places, and the particular craft culture that has emerged locally. I’ll highlight some of these variations as we get deeper into the analysis, but I want to be clear up front that there isn’t a single correct lens to examine these questions.
Finally, any time you are working with demographic data, particularly on race/ethnicity, it is worth remembering that many of the categories we use are constructs — perhaps useful ones — but other than age, demographic categories aren’t always clean and often rely on self-identification data.
Overall Craft Drinker Demographics
Let’s start really broadly. If we use “at least several times a year” as our standard, around 40 percent of the 21+ population is now a craft drinker (source: Nielsen — Harris on Demand). That’s been going up about one to two percentage points a year. The U.S. 21+ population has been going up by about 2.5 million legal drinking age adults in recent years, so that means craft is getting a slightly bigger bump than that every year. That’s likely averaged around 4-5 million new craft drinkers a year using a “several times a year” drinker definition.
If we look at more frequent craft consumption, not surprisingly, the numbers drop. Scarborough (another division of Nielsen) estimated that in 2017, 7.3 percent of 21+ adults had been a craft drinker in the last month. That’s about 17.5 million people in craft’s core.
Gender and Craft Drinker Demographics
Next, let’s look at gender. Taking the broad, “at least several times a year” view, craft drinkers are 31.5 percent female and 68.5 percent male in 2018 (source: Nielsen — Harris on Demand). That’s pretty much the same as monthly, where Scarborough found 31.1 percent female and 68.9 percent male. The main positive in these numbers is that they are improving.
In 2015, the same Harris Poll found “several times a year” craft drinkers were 29.1 percent female and 70.9 percent male. That’s two percentage points in a shift toward females in a three year period where total craft went up approximately five percentage points in the country. When you add that all up, it suggests that from 2015 to 2018, craft has added around 14.7 million drinkers, of which a bit below half (about 6.6 million) were women. If that data is correct, craft is now onboarding men and women into the category at roughly their percentages in the population. It’s not quite 50/50, and it will take decades of the same pattern to get closer to parity, but it’s a start.
Although I don’t have time series by local markets, looking at local market data, it’s pretty clear that much of this shift is being driven in particular places. Looking at individual markets, Portland’s craft drinker breakdown is 52.7 percent female and 47.3 percent male (source: Scarborough). The accompanying graph shows the percent of craft drinkers in the 30-day Scarborough data who were female by different defined market areas (DMAs), with a range from 7.4 percent to 52.7 percent.
These markets represent 83.4 percent of the total craft drinking population, including 4.44 million women (who drank craft in last 30 days). There are opportunities to grow the craft market on both ends of the spectrum. If the markets where female drinkers are currently below 1/3 of all craft drinkers were at 1/3 female drinkers, that’s more than 640,000 more women in those markets drinking craft every 30 days. If the markets that are above 1/3 but below 1/2 got to 50/50, that’s another 540,000 every 30 days.
Race/Ethnicity and Craft Drinker Demographics
Changes in craft’s demographics by race/ethnicity are less positive in recent years. Although the data show a growth in minority craft drinkers in absolute terms, the changes over time show less movement in percentage terms. In the 2015 Harris poll data, non-Hispanic whites were 86.3 percent of craft drinkers, with 13.7 percent coming from other races/ethnicities. In 2018, the percent white dropped to 85.5 percent, with non-white increasing slightly to 14.5 percent. Lining that up with the total population/craft drinker data, that means that from 2015-2018, 81 percent of new craft drinkers were white, and 19 percent came from minority groups. Given that only 68.7 percent of the 21+ U.S. population is non-Hispanic white, that’s not progress. Minority craft drinkers are growing, but only because the total population of craft drinkers is growing, not because craft drinkers are getting more diverse along racial lines — as we saw, the gender trends are more positive.
The 30-day consumption data show more of the same. Nielsen Spectra data from August 2014 showed 79.9 percent white. In 2017 data, that percentage hadn’t budged. It was 79.9 percent. There is clearly work to be done in marketing the amazing beers and brands of small and independent brewers to different communities across the country. I won’t pretend to have the answer as to how, but look for more resources from the Brewers Association to help diversify your customer base and organization in the future. •