Dr. Ina Verstl, German-based brewing publication, Brauwelt International’s editor and author, gives her point of view on the pandemic’s effect on the brewing industry, the challenges ahead and the majors trends for 2023.
What were the biggest takeaways from the COVID years for the brewing industry?
When the world went into lockdown in 2020, there was widespread, near-hysterical fear that beer consumption would nosedive and thousands of small breweries would go out of business. Luckily, this doomsday scenario did not materialise. Brewers found ways and means to pivot their sales to the off-premise, their curb sides or their web shops, despite their facing all kinds of supply chain issues. Remember the container ship that blocked the Suez Canal in March 2021, which massively disrupted global trade?
Unfortunately, the cost-of-living crisis came hot on the heels of the pandemic. That’s why I fear we could be stuck in crisis mode for years to come. How this will impact beer consumption, I can only guess. In recent weeks, there has been much talk about corporations using the cover of inflation to jack up prices by more than their own costs knowing consumers have come to expect a supersonic rise in shopping bills. An English friend of mine has joked that the “20-pound pint” is a real possibility in London. I do hope that brewers’ price hikes in 2023 will be reasonable and not excessive.
What trends can you see lasting or becoming more apparent in the next few years for big brewers and craft brewers?
If there is one overarching trend that has been talked up by the big brewers, it is “Beyond Beer” (non-alcoholic and low alcoholic beers). Call me a spoilsport, but I have been wondering for a while if the eventual size of the Beyond Beer segment warrants all the hype around it. When the big brewers started snapping up craft brewers in the past decade, we were led to believe that a hike in their craft beer sales would boost the big brewers’ sales overall. A decade on, the big brewers seem to have reverted to pushing big premium brands. Heineken is a case in point. The Dutch brewer is spending millions of dollars rolling out its Heineken Silver globally, not least thanks to having axed the number of focus brands that receive their TLC. I suspect that despite all the talk about Beyond Beer’s diversity, the big brewers secretly still consider it as synonymous with non-alcoholic beer. And as we have seen, the growth in that category is far from limitless. AB-InBev admitted last year that they will miss their self-set target that by 2025 one in five of their beers should be low or non-alcoholic.
The craze for hard seltzer seems to be over in the US and nonexistant or not yet taken off elsewhere in the world – do you have any comments?
Personally, I fail to understand the appeal of hard seltzer. I did enjoy Zima, Sub Zero (does anybody remember them?) and plenty of alcopops when they came out in the late 1990s. They tasted like a soft drink and contained alcohol. They were naughty but oh so nice. I cannot say the same about hard seltzer. I can appreciate them as a cultural phenomenon, though. They caught on in some markets and floundered in others. In effect, they underline that any fears of a homogenous world, where all people have the same tastes, are unfounded. And that’s a positive.
Tell us about a favorite and personal recent beer experience:
Christian Artzner, the founder of the Strasbourg craft brewery Perle, presented me with his advent calendar of beer, when I paid him a visit in December. It included several beers he had made in honor of the builders and craftsmen who helped build his new brewery. I thought these special releases were a really nice touch.
About Dr. Ina Verstl
Dr. Ina Verstl was born in Munich and educated in England. She studied economics, philosophy and literature in Munich, Hull, and Oxford. Her doctoral thesis “The Quarry of the Self – Bildung and the Subversion of Identity” was accepted by the University of Zurich.
Until 1997, she was press officer at the Munich Trade Fair Corporation, one of the world’s leading trade fair organisations. She has been a freelance journalist ever since and is currently a special feature writer and commentator for Brauwelt International.