On the blog Politico today, there’s a ten-minute podcast with Craig Purser, President of the NBWA, the National Beer Wholesalers Association. The title of the piece is Beer Fans Glad White House Has A Drinker. Give it a listen below.
Politico introduces the podcast, in part, with the following:
Purser admits that lobbying on behalf of alcohol can be a sweet gig. “I’ve got a very good job,” he said. “I enjoy working and representing America’s beer distributors. … We do represent a product that is one of celebration, that brings people together and that makes it fun.” Still, “there are days, however, when it truly does feel like work.” The NBWA held its annual legislative conference last week, and Reps. Chris Van Hollen and Kevin O. McCarthy delivered keynote addresses. “We have 127 members of Congress that have been sworn in in the last 26 months,” Purser said, and the NBWA has focused on catching them all up to speed on the group’s issues.
Perhaps most interesting is the way Purser answered the question about beer being recession-proof:
Beer is not recession proof, that’s a big misnomer. Some have even incorrectly asserted that consumption goes up in times like this. The fact is that the on-premise folks; retailers, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, are all feeling the pinch, as folks deal with uncertainty in the employment arena, uncertainty as it relates to the investment markets. There’s real concern when it comes to that. Likewise, we see a real emphasis in some sectors in trading down, where perhaps you were maybe a consumer that enjoyed a craft beer or an import. Most of those sectors are experiencing some softness.
I know imports are down, but the most recent numbers of craft beer sales seem to contradict his assertion that people are trading down to cheaper beer from craft beer. According to the most recent sales figures from the Brewers Association, released in late February, “from 2007 to 2008, estimated sales by craft brewers were up 5.8 percent by volume and 10.5 percent in dollars.” Unless that can be accounted for by former spirits and wine drinkers jumping ship — doubtful at best — then something doesn’t quite add up for me. I hate to engage in conspiratorial speculation (not enough not to do it, of course) but since the NBWA represents beer wholesalers, a.k.a. distributors, whose bread and butter comes from the Big Two (A-B InBev and MillerCoors), perhaps Purser is spinning things toward where his meals come from, too. Imports are down, macro brands are flatlining, only craft has been consistently up. They’ve slowed a bit in the last two years, dropping below double-digit growth by volume, but otherwise are still showing the most growth of any segment of the beer industry. I’ve heard that there is statistic data showing consumers trading down from so-called “premium” brands like Budwesier to “sub-premiums” like Busch, but that’s vastly different from what Purser is asserting is happening.