Do we live in a golden age of beer? Indications show that this centuries-old beverage of choice is having a modern renaissance, in terms of both quality and variety. 

Beer culture has risen in the US and worldwide, with over a half-trillion USD in sales annually ⁠— and so has worldwide innovation within and outside the industry. Options have exploded in recent years. Craft hard seltzers and sour beers aren’t new, but even a decade ago they weren’t as widely available as now. The once-forgotten IPA accounted for 19% of alcohol-delivery service Drizly’s 2020 beer sales and has bloomed into subcategories such as hazy, red, white, imperial, and others. 

Although covid-related bar and restaurant closures resulted in a beer-industry slowdown, there are indications of a post-pandemic boom, with a 2.5% bump in 2021 and projected international growth through 2025. Modern technology certainly helps fuel beer’s rise: New equipment and techniques have broadened possibilities, and social media connects brewer-innovators and gets the word out. Just as important: the use of data is cracking open new possibilities, too.

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Using beer sales statistics to understand the consumer

Two things seem certain in the beer industry’s near-term future: a rise in demand and supply volatility. To prepare for both, it makes sense for retailers and brands to pay attention to customer preferences, especially regarding tradeoffs: If their favorite beer isn’t in stock, what might they select instead? If the price of their go-to increases, what’s their next choice?

Data analytics company RetailZoom considered beer analytics an area ripe for innovation, according to Data and Analytics Manager Constantinos Mavrommatis. RetailZoom analyzed beer sales statistics gathered from 95% of the supermarkets in its native Cyprus. The point-of-sale data gave precise insights into loyalty card holders’ beer purchasing patterns, including amounts they spent, what item combinations they typically bought together, and what they would buy if a particular item was out of stock.

RetailZoom’s two-and-a-half-year effort focused on customers’ real decisions, demonstrated by actual beer sales data – and came up with substitution patterns for 120 categories. Beer lovers’ product loyalty can be fervent, says Constantinos, and even a small loyalty base can prove powerful: “If you exclude a product, you upset these people and consequently end up losing more market share for your supermarket.” Accounting for product loyalty ⁠— and finding ways to shift customers to other products — is crucial to a store’s survival.

Furthermore, using beer data to understand drinkers’ preferences could unlock keys to in-store placement, inventory management, recommendations to customers, and more.

Beer substitution made easy

Making all this information functional, though, required an easy-to-use format. RetailZoom relied on partners at Sisense, which has helped them display complex information and infuse actionable data insights into workflows for many other projects. The result is an intuitive beer substitution dashboard that reveals the most-popular replacements for a selected beer.

For Constantinos, visualization was a key component of this project, and many others at RetailZoom. “We have 21 statisticians, we write 10 different programming languages, but without the presentation of the data we would probably be shut down today…That’s the truth of it.” In a few clicks, manufacturers, retailers, bartenders, or drinkers can easily explore their options ⁠— without having to confront the underlying algorithms and a mammoth beer dataset.

Understandably, Constantinos wanted to confirm the results for himself. Would millions of beer data points steer drinkers in the right direction? “We wanted to get a feeling for ourselves, so I took the IPA beer I usually drink and tried the substitutions the system proposed, and it actually worked.” Not just for him, but for others who used it, too.

Although RetailZoom couldn’t publicize all the project’s industry insights, they made the substitution tool freely available, to significant social media excitement. A local brewery in Cyprus proved one business application right out of the gate: Though large brands easily produce multiple beer types, seeing customer preferences in this way can be important to a small brewery. The switch patterns showed the owner the categories where he could compete with larger manufacturers.

As he continued to use the tool, the brewer confirmed its outputs, even when they seemed surprising. The algorithm matched his IPA to a grapefruit beverage. Upon trying it, he said it tasted just like his IPA, admitting that he uses grapefruit in his batch, too, though the label doesn’t say so. 

According to Constantinos, the use of beer sales statistics has proven itself more than valid over time. He admits he faces frequent naysayers who question whether drinkers of Beer A would consider Beer B, “But when you are checking 100,000 people and 50,000 switch…then it’s a fact, whether you accept it or not.”

The data behind cigarettes, gambling, and other vices

Beer data is only one promising avenue for RetailZoom. Constantinos says his company can create tools to predict substitutions for virtually any consumer product, and they are now working in a variety of industries. Cigarettes, gambling, and energy drinks are some of the guilty pleasures RetailZoom has recently explored – but their larger assortment-optimization project has shown potential in multiple settings, including healthcare. 

As it has for beer culture, expect data-informed decision making to spur growth, choice, and quality in nearly every consumer area moving forward.

>>>Give users the data and insights that make sense.

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Jack Cieslak has written for and about the tech world for over a decade, having worked for Amazon, CB Insights, and others, writing on topics ranging from ecommerce and VC investments to crazy product launches and top-secret startup projects.

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