Beer Guide: Grocery stores play ally to craft beer

Katie Flowers

No longer just for the hip, craft beers are quickly becoming the favorite choice of many.

But craft breweries haven't built such success all on their own. Grocery stores have greatly helped these brands reach a further and more diverse audience. As craft beer's popularity and sales continue to rise, grocery stores keep trying to meet their customers' needs and tastes, while making it easier to find and try new products too.

"The grocery store makes it convenient for craft beer lovers to get what they want without having to seek it out at a specialty shop," said Jennifer Jarrell, media and government relations for Kroger of central Ohio. "It's important that we continue to increase our selection as the market grows."

Carrying beer from customers' favorite local breweries demonstrates that convenience. Grocery stores around central Ohio carry local brews such as Columbus Brewing Co., Four String Brewing Co. and Elevator Brewing. They also offer other popular craft selections from across the state, like Jackie O's Brewery, Great Lakes Brewing Co., Fat Head's and Rhinegeist. Jarrell said customers often purchase beer from breweries that have been around longer, particularly Great Lakes and Columbus Brewing Co.

Giant Eagle spokesperson Dan Donovan said customer demand for traditional offerings have somewhat declined, while the craft beer market has grown.

As the market grows, so does the selection at grocery stores. Both Giant Eagle and Kroger carry fairly large amounts of options, with Donovan saying most Giant Eagle stores carry between 200 and 500 craft beer selections. Jarrell said Kroger often keeps their selections on shelves and have lately been expanding.

"Just within the last two months, Kroger has added additional dry shelving space for craft beer in 15 stores in the Columbus area," she said.

Allowing more space and options has been a good move for the grocery store chains. Giant Eagle has seen double-digit percentage sales increases and Kroger has seen a sales growth of 20 to 30 percent continually over the past few years.

Increases in sales aren't the only changes stores have seen. They've also noticed changes in trends and customer demands and preferences.

"Additional changes within the craft beer segment include a significant demand for American IPAs," Donovan said. "There has also been a surge in seasonal beer sales during summer, fall and winter, including such styles as summer shandy, Oktoberfest, pumpkin and Christmas ales."

Looking forward, Giant Eagle and Kroger are enthusiastic to provide the best options for craft beer enthusiasts. Craft beer had an 11-percent share of beer market sales in 2014, the first time it hit double digits, and that number will be sure to grow as the industry evolves and improves.

"Customers are continuing to experiment and try new varieties, while breweries continue to produce new, high-quality selections," Jarrell said."As long as the demand remains, we will continue selling products that people want."