Outgrowing Growth – A look at the explosion of craft beer in British Columbia

Breweries & Beer Volume Growth in British Columbia – A Closer Look

The growth of craft beer drives headlines around North America. Boasting strong double digit volume growth quarter by quarter, the good news waterfall has spurred brewers, investors and beer geeks alike to pool their money and wander down the path of opening a brewery. Over the past decade, craft beer went from being on the fringes of society to being a mainstream aspect of daily life. Akin to the coffee shop in today’s culture, the local brewery is a watering hole that services the neighborhood.

Looking at British Columbia, this is no exception. As a leader within the North American craft beer scene, the consumer has taken the bait and fully embraced the craft beer train. At nearly 30% market share, craft in BC is one of the most prevalent in North America. The amount of craft beer and the number of breweries operating in British Columbia has absolutely exploded in recent years.

Annual BC Craft Beer Production

In an overall beer market that is shrinking, micro breweries (production < 15,000 HL) have averaged an average increase of 21% by volume per year since 2015. Regional breweries (production between 15,000HL and 300,000HL) have increased their total annual volume by an average of 6% per year in the same period.  Combined, that amounts to an increase of over 200,000 HL of craft beer sold in BC per year.

BC Number of Operating Breweries

In the same period of time, since 2015, the number of operating breweries has doubled. Going from an estimated  86 operating breweries in 2015 to an astounding 172 as of March 31, 2019 (BCLDB 2018/2019 year end). This has created areas like Port Moody, East Vancouver, Penticton and North Vancouver where as many as 10+ breweries may be located within range of a long walk.

 

BC Craft Brewery Quantities & Volume

Together this appears to be a gold rush. With every graph pointing up it is no wonder that investors have been throwing money at the craft beer industry trying to stake their claim on a burgeoning business. The only thing that is growing faster than the amount of craft beer being consumed is the number of breweries operating.

 

BC All Beer Volume

Looking at the beer industry as a whole in British Columbia, the picture shifts slightly. The overall beer market is shrinking in low single digit percentages, but the beer is moving from the macro producer to the craft producer. This shift has largely been celebrated by craft beer fans and has been positioned as a business model that builds jobs and has a strong impact on local communities. Small businesses have been nipping at the heels of large corporations to build a new, community focused beer model. The overall shrinking of market has been masked to craft producers who are taking a larger piece of the pie.

It is not all fun and games though. The number of small breweries has been growing at a faster rate than the volume of craft beer. This discrepancy is leading to a possible scenario where each new brewery is stealing from Peter to pay Paul.

BC Craft Brewery Production Per Brewery

 

Plotting the total craft beer brewed over the number of breweries operating, the average production per brewery has been in constant decline since at least 2015. Based on all craft breweries, the average has decreased by nearly 2000 HL. Coming down from over 6,000 HL to just over 4,000 HL, that represents a 31% decrease in average volume.

This decrease doesn’t represent the demise of craft beer in BC. It doesn’t mean that existing and proposed breweries are doomed to fail. What it does mean though is that the industry is getting crowded and breweries need to focus on driving value in their local communities and earning a living without a large scale operation. Growing to scale is not as easy as it once was and proposes risk to breweries that attempt the growth rates that were seen five years ago. In the annual BC Craft Beer Survey, we see increased price sensitivity and decreased importance of brewery and location. This shift may be small but it likely stems from the noise of the industry and an overwhelming number of options available.

So, with that news, get outside and support your local craft brewery!

This data is based on BCLDB Quarterly Market Reports on beer volume sold through the wholesale channel. This is measured based on packaged goods sales and excludes draft volume.

 

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