Why Scanner Data Isn’t A Useful Metric for Craft Beer

Today a news release from the Brewers Association landed in my in box announcing growth in the craft beer market. While the announcement doesn’t list the source of the information, I’m inferring that it is based on supermarket and convenience store scanner data. You know, those bar code thingies.
The release touts the good news of 100 new brewers bringing the total in the U.S to 1645. The problem is how many of those brewers get a significant amount of their sales from off site stores? My guess is only the top 50.

While I don’t have data that says how many craft brewers sell into the retail channel or what those volumes might be, I do have data showing how many brewers in California ship out of state.

Total Brewers and Number of Brewers Shipping Out of State

While the actual number of brewers has increased from 2006 to 2009 by 23, the number of brewers shipping out of state has remained static (at around 23). So for the roughly 10% of brewers who ship out of state, the scanner data is useful, but for the others, they probably aren’t impacted by the retail market.

One final point about scanner data. Getting and keeping track of the numbers represented in the bar codes (UPCs) is a pain in the neck. While the companies who do it have a lot of the information, they don’t have it all. For example, a local Sacramento brewer named Odanata, who make damned good beer, just recently started selling at retail in the last few months. I doubt the scanner data companies have included their UPC, nor do I think they can possibly keep up with the many different changes in product and UPC across the smaller craft beer market.


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