Wallflower Confessions

This issue couldn’t have come at a worse time for yours truly.

Here we are, getting showered with products from all manner of brewers, and I’m beached like a too-jolly whale on the South Beach Diet, a victim of a half-decade’s indulgence. The par­ty isn’t stopping here, and when it does, there’s a big pile of energy drinks to help everyone out. Except for poor, salad-eating me. Sigh.

Too bad. Because when it comes to all things beer, times are good. Craft brewers are on a five- year winning streak. The big guys seem to have sharpened their games as a result, establishing the twin trick of consolidating their marketing efforts behind their main brands while broad­ening their offerings through innovation.

In short, they’re thinking about consumers again, and in a way that recognizes the con­sumer as an individual who might need to be convinced and educated as to the merits of a particular product rather than someone who will just follow the herd to a trough of whatever they’re offering.

What a party. But it can end, and easily. Rising materials costs are hitting craft brewers hard, as are increased transportation costs and, as of this writing, so are recession-related blows to the collective consumer wallet. Given the important role the craft brewers had in pushing the big guys to start paying attention to quality again – and to start re-emphasizing the quality that was already inherent in their portfolios – blows to the high-end group of brewers could indeed hurt the entire industry.

So as retailers, even as things start to swing in the direction of the big brewers, it’s important to not forget where they’re finding their energy. Don’t forget to keep higher end stuff in stock – some of the new faces who are coming into your stores in search of the “Great American Lager” or the “Banquet Beer” are going to keep coming back in search of other varieties.

And if you see a guy in the back of the aisles, slinking around, looking at all that great stuff, clutching a stalk of celery, and sobbing, tell me it looks like the diet is working. That way, I might be able to re-join the party.

Speaking of parties, we had one of our own recently, with BevNET’s Best of 2007 awards. The winners are covered extensively in the pages that follow, as are the possible next generation, who are pictured in our report from Fancy Foods West. So get out there and have a great time – just beware the ol’ freshman fifteen!