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These are pretty amazing numbers generated from a study be the Beer Institute (BI) and National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA):


There’s obviously an angle to the story, including support for the “three tier system” and wholesaler arm of the industry, as the BI is the large producers’ industry counterweight to the Brewer’s Association, which is more focused on the smaller & craft brewers. That said, the “economic activity” generated in the survey is tremendous. According to the report, as of 2012, the beer industry included:

2,851 breweries
3,728 distributors
576,353 retailers (stores & bars/restaurants)

It’s amazing to me that there are still supposedly more distributors than brewers, as the number of wholesalers has allegedly dropped considerably over the past several years. THIS states there are about 2000 beer wholesalers out there as of 2012, and I’ve read there are as few as 1000 this year, but haven’t been able to find a definitive number. Anecdotally, in my own geographic area, there are approximately 25 breweries and 4 wholesalers, including one very small distribution company with only 3 brands. This is down from 5 last year as two of them have just announced a merger.

Why does it matter? Well, THIS story further details some of the reasons the distribution game is so important for small producers and consumers alike and why the true battle for your beer dollars is being waged in an unseen war away from the eyes of most consumers. A further reduction of distribution options, relative to producers, means a larger bottleneck for distribution…and access to markets is the number one challenge for growing craft brewers, particularly as more wholesalers are “aligned” with or owned partially or outright by large breweries. ABInBev, for example, owns around 500 distributors alone throughout the U.S.

More than ever, every vote counts…and every dollar you spend on a beer counts as a vote in that $2.5 billion market.