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Saturday, June 15, 2024

N.C. craft brewers show slower growth

The craft brewing business has lost some of its fizz, but still shows some gusto.

Eight of the 15 biggest N.C. craft brewers reported growth of 3% or less, including five that showed declining production. Only three reported double-digit growth: NoDa Brewing of Charlotte (up 12%); Asheville-based Burial Beer, up 154%; and Green Man Brewing of Asheville, up 15%. They were among the 179 enterprises that shared data with the national Brewers Association.

Overall, N.C. beer sales declined 1.6% last year in terms of volume, though actual revenue increased as much as 4%, Tim Kent, executive director of the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association, said in a statement. Higher prices, including inflationary factors, played a role.

There are 9,900 breweries nationwide, as of the end of 2023. U.S. craft production was down 1% last year. “Craft growth has been relatively flat since 2019 following a decade of robust double-digit growth,” Kent says.

He notes there are 407 breweries in North Carolina, ninth most in the U.S. That’s a net gain of 15 versus a year earlier. A long-anticipated shakeout hasn’t occurred yet.

Kent cites several factors for sluggish growth in the beer business:

* Generation Z is drinking less alcohol than previous generations. That may be because there is more marijuana consumption as more states legalize cannabis.

* Sports gaming may also be taking a bigger share of discretionary income. North Carolinians wagered more than $1 billion in the first two months after lawmakers legalized betting on sports.

Craft beer production now has a 13.3% share of U.S. beer sales. Domestics make up 63.6%, while imports have the balance, 23.2%. But craft beers account for more than 22% of revenue because the unit prices are higher than the traditional market leaders from Budweiser, Miller and Coors, Kent says.

The largest N.C. craft breweries involve companies based in other states. New Belgium produced 1.3 million barrels at cites in Asheville and Fort Collins, Colorado. Sierra Nevada made 1.04 million barrels in Mills River and Chico, California. And Asheville’s Wicked Weed, which is owned by beer industry leader AB InBev, produced 120,000 barrels.

Artisanal Brewing Ventures is by far the largest N.C.-based brewer, with nearly 395,000 barrels in 2023, down from its peak of about 436,500 in 2020. Its brands include Liberty and Bold Rock Hard Cider.

Highland Brewing of Asheville ranked second with 40,900 barrels, a 7% gain from the previous year. Charlotte-based Sycamore produced about 29,400 last year, a 5% gain, while Whitsett-based Red Oak Brewery made about 28,000 barrels, little change from the previous two years.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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