Craft beer aping flavoured vodka fad?

The avalanche of spiced as well as fruit- and vegetable-infused beers coming onto the US market has prompted concerns that craft brewers may be charting a similar faddish path to that trodden by distillers with flavoured vodka.

Beer Business Daily executive editor Jenn Litz-Kirk told the Craft Brewers Conference 2016 that flavoured extensions of beers were becoming ubiquitous.

“What does that do to the consumer? Are we undermining our flagships?” Litz-Kirk asked delegates in a seminar titled Uncovering and Understanding Trends in Craft Beer.

She said the “flavoured vodka-fication” of craft beer has seen a 250 per cent spike in tropical flavour variants in the year to April 2, 2016, according to Nielsen data. Tropical flavours now account for eight per cent of the flavoured beer category.

Tea-infused beers were up 719 per cent off a low base, to account for two per cent of the category. Also on the move are orange (up 70 per cent), spices (up 16 per cent), pumpkin (up 14 per cent) and blueberry (up nine per cent).

Lime underwent only modest growth of one per cent but remains the category leader with a 36 per cent share.

The trend was in evidence at the associated BrewExpo America event, where suppliers of fruit, fruit purees and concentrates as well as herbs and spices were out in force on the exhibition floor.

According to Nielsen, flavoured beer now has a two per cent value share of US beer sales, up 12 per cent in the year to April 2.

In the India Pale Ale category specifically, sales of fruit/veggie/spiced variants spiked upwards by 844 per cent in US supermarkets, claiming a 2.6 per cent dollar share of craft IPA for the year to March 27, 2016 (IRI InfoScan data).

Will flavours grow craft beer?

Litz-Kirk drew parallels with the explosion of flavoured vodka variants since 2008, which saw distillates flavoured with anything from bison grass to rye bread and even scorpion finding their way onto the market.

“It’s getting a bit faddish in my opinion,” she said.

However, Litz-Kirk presented data indicating that the proliferation of flavoured vodka, while cringe-inducing, may actually have benefited vodka sales overall.

“What appears to have happened is, a few years ago, flavoured vodka has got some people into that category and they don’t seem to have left,” she said.

“It does seem to be a good thing for that category.”

However, Litz-Kirk acknowledged that “beer is not vodka” and is subject to limited tap points in venues, among other disparities.

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