CASE The United States Beer Industry

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CASE
The United States Beer Industry

Over the last few decades, the United States beer industry has been characterized by a very clear trend toward an increase in the concentration of the market. Today, some 80% of all the beer consumed in the United States is produced by just three companies: Anheuser-Busch, SAB-Miller, and Molson Coors, up from 57% of the market in 1980. Anheuser-Busch had almost 50% of the market in 2006, up from just 28.2% in 1980. SAB-Miller (formed in 2002 when South African Breweries merged with Miller Beer) had around 19% of the market, and Molson Coors (formed in 2005 when Canada’s Molson merged with Coors) had 11% of the market.

Anheuser Busch, SAB-Miller, and Molson Coors dominate the mass-market segment of the industry, where competition revolves around aggressive pricing, brand loyalty, wide distribution, and national advertising spending. In contrast, another segment in the industry, the premium beer segment, is served by a large number of microbrewers and importers, the majority of which have a market share of less than 1%. The premium segment focuses on discerning buyers. Producers are engaged in the art of craft brewing. They build their brands around taste and cover higher product costs by charging much higher prices – roughly twice as much for a six pack as the mass-market brewers. The microbrewers and importers have been gaining share and currently account for around 11% of the total market.

The increase in concentration among mass-market brewers reflects a number of factors. First, consumption of beer in the United States has been gradually declining (even though consumption of premium beer has been increasing). Per-capita consumption of beer peaked at 34 gallons in 1980, fell to a low of 29.1 gallons in 2003, and crept back up to 30 gallons per capita in 2005. The decline in consumption was partly due to the growing popularity of substitutes, particularly wine and spirits. In 1994, Americans consumed...