The Rise of ‘Craft’ Brands

In 2013, The New Yorker reported there were 2,360 craft breweries in the United States, with that number expected to rise steadily over the next 10 years. It also reported that craft beers were making headway in “colonizing” the difficult to penetrate South and Midwest – basically, the areas outside of the big coastal cities.

Similarly, there has been a resurgence in the flagging soda category due to the increasing popularity of craft soda brands such as Boylan’s, Jones and Reeds. Just go to any gourmet burger joint in North America and you’ll likely find a fridge containing a variety of craft sodas standing proudly alongside the iconic curvy bottles of Coke.

Journalists attribute the rise in craft soda to the continuing consumer trend toward healthier products. But I think that’s only part of the story.

While the definition of “craft” is vague, let’s assume for the sake of argument it refers to brands that:

– have a clear origin or place where they’re produced, or where they originated
– use more natural ingredients in their formulas
– tend toward using unique recipes rather than what’s common in the industry
– are generally independent companies vs. being owned by a conglomerate
– tend toward more intimate retail distribution (bars, lounges, small boutique eateries) than being ubiquitous on supermarket shelves

What is attractive to today’s eaters and drinkers (I really do hate the word “consumer” and will try to avoid it) is that, whether or not they authentically care about the health effects of what they’re drinking, these brands have a story, identity and texture that make them unique. And generally they have a distinctive taste that goes along with that unique story.

Today, in North America we are as privileged and affluent as ever. We can purchase what people in other parts of the world would deem obscene quantities of quality household products. But with all these goods stuffing our pantries, what we often lack is the feeling that you get from something unique. Something ‘crafted’. Something where you can imagine the two guys, or the little family, that made these painstakingly in a barrel or kettle.

Even apparel and accessories are following this pattern. Brands such as Shinola from Detroit have a decidedly craft feel. The jeans category for years has milked this trend, with premium labels such as Edun and Made & Crafted.

You could say that going “craft” is in fact, quite crafty.