Branching Off Beverages, Part II (Beer)

Occasion is top factor in alcohol-beverage choice, and convenience, variety key

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

beer case

[Editor's Note: This is the second of a series of articles on packaged beverages. Click here to view Part I.]

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- A consumer decision tree can serve as a helpful map of the likely behavior of beverage consumers. It also can highlight opportunities for guiding the purchase to completion and making the shopping experience as convenient and smooth as possible. A decision tree reveals how consumers shop a category, ranking the order and importance of elements ranging from occasion and need state to flavor and brand preferences. Each tree--typically presented as a flowchart--is as different as the subcategory and its core consumer.

"Beer's a pretty universal piece of the social fabric and diet for quite a few people," said Tom Prestridge, director of trade marketing insights for Anheuser-Busch InBev, St. Louis. Hispanics and African-Americans skew slightly higher in beer consumption, as do millennials, according to company research. Baby boomers drink beer but like to alternate with wine. Even by gender, beer is surprisingly democratic, with a 55/45 split toward men, although newer types of brews specifically designed to appeal to women's palates are straightening that lean.

According to A-B InBev research, occasion is the top factor in making an alcohol-beverage choice. "What am I using it for, how am I consuming it?" Prestridge says. "Is it for me and right now, or is it for sharing?"

Once the occasion is decided, consumers move on to beverage choice--beer, wine, spirits--brands and price segments, and then the desired shopping experience. "It's choosing which store will have what I need at the right price, cold or on sale," said Prestridge. "I'm not just shopping the cheapest. Is it convenient, and who will have what I want?"

Indeed, variety is key in this segment, he said. "If the store is out of stock, they will go somewhere else," he said. "If it happens a couple of times, the shopper stops thinking about that as a beer store: 'It won't have what I need, so I will take it off the list'."

According to MillerCoors research, the beer decision tree also begins with that immediate-consumption mindset. "The most important factors in choosing a store for beer are cold beer, brand and package size availability," said Jeffrey Schouten, director of channel marketing for Chicago-based MillerCoors. "Price is also important, especially for millennials."

Schouten of MillerCoors agreed that variety is key for beer: "Keep it cold and in stock, and make sure the assortment has the most popular brands and pack sizes."

To read more on packaged beverages, see the November issue of CSP magazine.