In Gloria Gaynor’s 1978 rock anthem “I Will Survive,” she sings about surviving heartache and “having all my life to live, and having all my love to give and I’ll survive.” In an unprecedented year of shutdowns and limited access to breweries, taprooms and tours, craft breweries have had to pivot and get creative “to survive” and keep revenue streams flowing.
eCommerce and Direct-to-consumer (DTC) beer shipping, where legally permissible, was part of the solution, with 84% of regular craft beer drinkers desiring to be able to legally purchase beer via DTC shipping to their homes. Additionally, 73% of regular craft beer drinkers say the pandemic has increased their interest in purchasing craft beer via DTC shipping.
Yet, many Americans live in states where interstate DTC shipping is prohibited, as DTC beer shipping is only legal in 13 states: Alaska, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
These findings are among the highlights of a first-ever “Direct-to-Consumer Beer Shipping Report” by Sovos ShipCompliant and the Brewers Association (BA), Boulder, Colo. Sovos ShipCompliant offers cloud-based solutions to ensure the legal and efficient distribution of alcohol products, while the BA is a nonprofit trade association that represents the interest of 5,400-plus small and independent American brewers.
Conducted during the first quarter of 2021, the report analyzed the results of an online Harris Poll of 1,869 adults ages 21 and older (among whom 568 drink craft beer at least once a month) and a craft brewer survey conducted by the BA based on responses from 141 craft brewers in 38 states.
In a statement, Larry Cormier, vice president and general manager of Sovos ShipCompliant, said: “It’s perhaps no surprise that craft beer drinker’s interest in having their favorite beverages shipped to their doorsteps grew amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers got a taste for DTC beer shipments, and these attitudes and interests are here to stay. Brewers and regulators alike have a great opportunity to learn from the success of the $3.7 billion DTC wine shipping channel that has grown — compliantly — over the past 15 years.”
The escalation of online purchases
Bart Watson, chief economist at the BA, notes that it’s much more than the COVID-19 pandemic that’s impacting craft brewers, pointing out the disconnect between consumers purchasing wine versus craft beer and the fact that distributed SKUs of craft beer got cut an estimated 20% during the pandemic.
“Consumers are getting more used to buying everything online. You can buy wine online in almost every state in the U.S., so consumers are just looking online for beer like they are for everything else,” he says.
DTC wine shipments, for example, jumped $222 million during lockdown as more than 1 million cases of wine were directly shipped to consumers’ homes in the first six months of 2020 compared with 2019, Sovos ShipCompliant’s annual “DTC Wine Shipping” report states.
Atlas Brew Works, which operates two breweries and taprooms in Washington, D.C., also notes the disparity between DTC wine and beer sales. Atlas Brew Works Founder and CEO Justin Cox comments: “DTC in the craft beer industry is still in its nascent stage. Wine has been in the DTC space for years; craft beer is just starting to catch up as traditional sales channels dried up with COVID shutdowns and closures. Limited and specialty beers seem to be the most available online. As states change laws around DTC for beer, more and more breweries are looking at the space as a viable revenue stream.”
The DTC beer report has additional key findings:
- More than three-quarters of regular craft beer drinkers (78%) say they have tried a beer while traveling that they wish they could purchase, but it was not available near their home.
- Four in five regular craft beer drinkers (80%) says they are more likely to try new beer brands if they could be purchased via DTC shipping to their homes.
- Three in five (57%) of regular craft beer drinks have purchased craft beer from a brewery and had it directly shipped to their homes from a third-party carrier.
- Since the pandemic began last March, there was a slight uptick in the purchase of DTC craft beer, with 51% reporting it as such.
A bigger slice of the pie
The combination of social media, which enables brands to directly connect with and market to consumers, along with flexible manufacturing has opened up some opportunities for DTC, BA’s Watson says.
“Within beverage alcohol, as brands proliferate and distribution looks to tighten SKU proliferation, more small producers are looking to DTC as a way to survive,” he says.
eCommerce, brand marketing and shipping channels including warehousing and logistics also have gotten more sophisticated, he adds.
Similarly, Atlas Brew Works’ Cox points out that the infrastructure for DTC beer has a ways to go to meet expectations.
“Shipping companies are now realizing shipping beer can be a growth for them. eCommerce marketplaces are realizing the same thing and starting to cater offerings to the craft beer industry’s needs,” Cox says.
Yet, before employing DTC solutions, Cox notes that DTC for beer is a heavily regulated endeavor. “Breweries must do their homework to ensure they hold the proper licenses, are collecting the correct taxes, etc.,” he explains.
The craft brewer started its online shop (shop.atlasbrewworks.com) during COVID. “I'm proud to say our solar-powered beer, made in the District of Columbia, is now available for direct shipment in D.C., Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.”
Currently, only 13% of craft brewers are engaged in DTC shipping and are sticking to local markets, while 89% of breweries employing the technology are doing so within their home states — their primary market, BA’s Watson says.
Yet, the growth opportunities for DTC craft beer expansion are undeniable. For example, 11% of breweries are selling more volume DTC out-of-state than in-state, Watson adds.
Yet, he notes DTC isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy. “DTC can be a primary strategy, but it can also be a complementary one, depending on which products you offer,” Watson explains. “As more states allow DTC, this will allow greater innovation and exploration of different models, and so we’ll probably start to see breweries use DTC in new ways.”