Beer Marketers Search for Answers as Wine and Spirits Keep Winning –

A sign of the times: This new Michelob Ultra ad takes on white wine.  Credit: Michelob ULTRA

The beer industry’s wine and spirits anxiety has reached a fevered pitch, if the annual National Beer Wholesalers Association meeting of 4,000 distributors and suppliers this week is any sign.

From the main stage in a Caesar’s Palace ballroom, speaker after speaker lamented the ground that beer has lost with drinkers, especially millennials. Liquor keeps creeping into occasions once dominated by beer, like drinking at pro sports stadiums. And hard booze brands have burst through societal boundaries that once kept them from making big-budgeted marketing splashes. The latest watershed moment came this year, when the NFL lifted its liquor-ad ban.

Beer executives have sounded alarms before; the industry even ran a Super Bowl ad for beer, collectively, in 2006 as wine and spirits’ encroachment was becoming clear. But at this year’s event, the urgency seemed particularly acute.

Beer as a proportion of the alcohol consumed by 21-to-27-year-olds fell to 43 percent last year from 65 percent in 2006, said Joao Castro Neves, North American president and CEO at Anheuser-Busch InBev‘s, the world’s largest brewer. “If this trend continues at the pace it is today, by 2030 beer will no longer have the largest share in the alcohol category,” he said.

Heineken USA CEO Ronald den Elzen speaks at the National Beer Wholesalers Association meeting. Credit: National Beer Wholesalers Association

Ronald den Elzen, president and CEO at Heineken USA, said the industry has lost 35 million barrels of beer in the past 20 years as result of competition from wine and spirits. “Every consumer today drinks on average one bottle of beer less per week than they did 20 years ago,” he said. “If this is not a wake-up call that we

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