What’s slowing down craft? (Hint: It’s not Blue Moon)

The assertion bounced around the beer industry trade press recently: Four of the largest and most widely available craft brands, including MillerCoors’ Blue Moon, are largely responsible for the slowdown in craft beer’s growth.

The problem? That claim, while technically accurate, is misleading.

Beer analyst Bump Williams, a consultant who authors a subscription-only newsletter, published IRI data that showed year-to-date craft sales would be growing at a 11.2 percent clip — a rate more than double the reported 5.5 percent — if the four biggest brand families are carved out of the data.

That led Williams to conclude that any craft brand not named Blue Moon, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada or Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Shock Top should “step up their game and tell the story of their growth or else they will be lumped in with the misinformed writers weaving a tale of total craft being on a downward spiral.”

Nielsen data tell a similar story, showing year-to-date sales of craft up 4.2 percent. Excluding the four biggest brand families, which account for nearly a quarter of the segment’s sales, craft is up 9.5 percent.

Seems like a cut-and-dry case of “Big Craft” dragging down the overall craft segment, right? Not so much. Dig a hair deeper and one would find the slowdown is being driven not by the largest craft brand, Blue Moon, but rather by the next three.

Dollar sales of Blue Moon are up 3.6 percent year-to-date on 1.8 percent higher volume versus the same period a year ago. That’s while Samuel Adams (-19.9 percent in sales, -19.5 percent in volume) Shock Top (-18.5 percent, -21 percent) and Sierra Nevada (-7.1 percent, -8.2 percent) each booked declines, according to Nielsen.

Carving Blue Moon out of the craft segment produces year-to-date dollar sales up 4.3 percent, per Nielsen. Excluding Shock Top, Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams, meanwhile, craft sales including Blue Moon would be up 8.8 percent.

“Led by a renewed focus for our flagship style, Belgian White, Blue Moon is having a great year,” says Chris Steele, the brand’s senior marketing manager. “Our focus is continuing to strengthen our ownership of wheat led by Belgian White, and giving our core drinkers more of what they’re looking for through our refreshed share packs.”

In an interview, Williams disputes that his analysis was misleading, but acknowledged his report didn’t “paint Blue Moon as a growing brand” even though “it’s true the current trends for Blue Moon are a plus.”

While it’s true the craft segment’s growth is decelerating compared with its extraordinary growth over the past five years, and it’s true that some of the largest craft brands are key culprits to the slowdown, Blue Moon, as Williams later notes, is not the problem.