by Josh Pringle, VP of Business Development, CO2Meter
If you have ever been to a industry trade show, the Craft Brewers Conference and BrewExpo would not surprise you in its size, scope of products, and sheer "buzz." The Washington D.C. Convention Center hosted this year’s event, and the Brewers Association found it necessary to add additional exhibition space at the last minute to house the hundreds of exhibitors eager to meet, talk to, and sell their wares to willing craft brewers.
However, to a first-time trade show attendee, the breadth and depth of the craft beer industry can be surprising.
“I didn’t know that craft brewing including all these business pieces,” commented CO2Meter’s Vice President of Operations & Strategy Travis Lenander. It was his first craft beer expo.
My brother Lon Pringle was in awe as he descended onto the exhibition hall floor for the first time.
“For small, craft brewers this is a one-stop shop. You could win $100 million in the lottery and decide to open a brewery. You walk on to the floor, hire a brewery consultant, walk through and pick out all your equipment, grab your marketing hats and t-shirts, and you can start brewing,” he said. Not far from the truth.
In addition to the trade show floor, the Brewers Association also used the Expo to educate its association members. Seminars on brewing trends, crop reports, expectations on hop yields, brewery safety and dozens of other topics were held, allowing brewers to upskill and becoming current on the latest trends in the industry. As one Washington DC bartender commented on the last day of the conference, “I’m not going to comment on whether the President kept his promise to ‘drain the swamp’ but I sure can tell you the Craft Brewers conference drained all the beer out of the swamp this week…we’re out!”
The buzz at this year’s conference carried over from last year -- consolidation and over-saturation in the brewing industry. The SABMiller, Miller Coors and ultimately AB InBev and Molson Coors mergers in 2016 were still very fresh in the minds of the brewers on the floor. Craft Brewers see this consolidation in the larger breweries as an attempt to “lock out” the smaller brewers by keeping a strangle hold on shelf space at both retail stores and tap handles in on-premises establishments. Furthermore, the consolidation of beer distributors over the last decade insures that the focus of the people moving and selling the beer is on the largest breweries.
At the top of nearly every attendees mind was a New York Times Op-Ed penned by Jim Koch of the Boston Beer Company just prior to the start of the conference. Jim lays out a case for the decline of the craft beer market spurred on by some of the market forces above.
While Jim’s critics point out that Sam Adams plays the same role at the top of the Craft Beer market that AB InBev and Molson Coors play in the overall market, Jim also notes the growth of the hyper-local brewers who are able to brew, market, and sell locally to their consumer base. While these market forces have led to a bottom-up growth pattern for overall consumption, they also erode the market share of both the big 2 brewers and large craft brewers like Sam Adams. As a result, the big 2 brewers are buying craft brewers, and making it harder for independents to get the best ingredients, access to wholesalers and shelf space. We may have reached the pinnacle of craft brewing in the US.
Those brewers who stopped by the CO2Meter booth continued the “tradition” of openly talking about and sharing their views, needs, and experience. The Craft Brewing industry is rare in that competitors are willing to sit down and share their needs, troubles, concerns, and solutions with each other because they all are still invested in the brewing community. While competition exists and this feeling of comradery is less than it used to be, overall craft brewers are still a very tight knit community.
With more than 5,500 breweries in attendance this year CO2Meter had a unique opportunity to discuss and promote CO2 safety devices for breweries and personal safety. The release of our SAN-0001 Personal 5% CO2 Monitor and Data Logger coincided with this year’s expo. Designed by our current brewing partners the SAN-0001 was a huge hit. In addition to selling all the units we brought to the expo we garnered some valuable feedback that our engineers will implement in the next production run.
Overall, we were happy that we were at the show, and look forward to seeing all of our current and future brewing partners in Nashville, Tennessee in 2018.
Didn't make the CBC Expo? See more images here.