STOUT NUMBERS

NEW YORK -- After three years of sales declines, beer production increased about 1% in 1996, largely a reflection of the runaway success of microbrews and specialty beer products, according to a report released by Beverage Marketing Corp. of New York here.nly 2% of the total market.Beverage Marketing is predicting the domestic beer industry will grow from 186.6 million barrels in 1995, the last year

NEW YORK -- After three years of sales declines, beer production increased about 1% in 1996, largely a reflection of the runaway success of microbrews and specialty beer products, according to a report released by Beverage Marketing Corp. of New York here.

nly 2% of the total market.

Beverage Marketing is predicting the domestic beer industry will grow from 186.6 million barrels in 1995, the last year complete figures were available, to 191.5 million barrels by 2000, an annual growth rate of 0.5%.

In 1995, per capita consumption stood at 21.9 gallons per adult, a figure which is expected to decline until it reaches 21.5 gallons in 1998, at which point it will remain level for the rest of the century.

"The microbrews are definitely going to lead the growth of the beer industry," said Gary A. Hemphill, vice president, information services.

In its 224-page "Specialty Beer & Microbrewery Markets in the U.S. -- 1996 Report," Beverage Marketing found that while consumption of specialty beers continues to increase, the rate of growth has started to slow down.

Specialty products include national craft brands such as Samuel Adams, regional craft brands like Anchor Steam, microbrews with less than 15,000 barrels produced annually and pub brews.

In 1994, growth was 37.2%; in 1995, it was 31.7%; and preliminary figures for 1996 show growth at about 27.7%. Adult per capita consumption now stands at about two-thirds of a gallon, up from about a half gallon in 1995.

"While the specialty category is still growing, the growth has slowed a little bit and there are more companies coming in. At some point the two trains are going to collide, and you will see some kind of a shakeout," Hemphill said, adding that he expects the shakeout to take place before the end of the century.

A distribution system that has not been growing with the industry is also expected to play a role in the downfall of some brands, Hemphill said.

The number of breweries being built in the United States has skyrocketed. In 1996, an estimated 277 additional breweries joined the scene, of which five were regional breweries, 124 were microbreweries and 148 were brew-pub restaurant establishments. About 400 microbreweries are now operating in the United States.

But 39% of the specialty sales are concentrated among the top three players. Boston-based Boston Beer Co. has 24.2% of the category and posted record sales of 1.34 million barrels in 1996. In second place with 440,000 barrels and a 7.9% market share is Pete's Brewing Co., Palo Alto, Calif. Third place, with 384,000 barrels in sales and a 6.9% market share, is D.G. Yuengling & Sons, Pottsville, Pa.

Having various divisions, brands and partnerships with independent brewers, Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis; Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee; and Coors Brewing Co., Golden, Colo., are also big players in the specialty segment.