Is it fair to say that Walmart is the ABInBev of the retail world? Walmart is huger than huge and, like ABInBev, officially has their eye on the craft beer market. Yesterday we learned that former Walmart CEO and current board member Lee Scott said, “You can’t take an area like beer where people are moving to craft and ‘under-assort’ yourself because the person who is buying craft beer and wants that assortment will drive to Kroger and pay the 15% more.”
Almost half of Walmart’s almost 10,000 stores are in the US and well over half of the $419 billion it netted last year was raked in domestically. Like I said, huger than huge. So the fact that they’re going to start selling craft beer can only mean good things for the craft industry, which accounts for 7.6% of the $100 billion domestic beer market.
If you live in a well-developed market like Seattle or San Francisco, you already definitely have a well-worn path to your nearest bottle shop and you probably don’t even know where the nearest Walmart is. But not everyone has such amazing access to great beer. So, just as it should be encouraged that shoppers can find some organic products there, it’s a huge step in the right direction for Walmart to stock craft beer.
From the shoppers’ perspective, if that’s where they buy beer, it puts more choices in front of them and is theoretically exposing them to brand they’ve never seen before. From the brewers’ perspective, it gives them tons more shelves from which to sell their product. And yes, from this particular retailer’s perspective, they get to tap into this $7.6 billion industry.
I don’t know if any Walmarts currently stock any craft beer at all, but this shift means they’ll likely stock Sierra Nevada Pale Ale but probably not Estate Homegrown Ale. Midwest stores may carry Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat but don’t look for Bourbon Barrel Quad from their Smokestack Series. Don’t expect to camp out overnight for any limited release beers.
In the end, Walmart is not exactly regarded as an outlet for artisanal products, so don’t look for this shift to pilfer shoppers from local-centric stores. But the journey into craft beer tends to act as a catalyst for discovering other higher quality, locally made goods. So can exposing shoppers at this mega-mondo retail chain to this spiffy little corner of the beer world be a bad thing?