Report: Consumer Interest in Direct-Shipped Beer Outpaces Its Legality

The Brewers Association and Sovos ShipCompliant have teamed up on a report that gauges drinkers’ interest in having beer shipped to their homes. Among craft beer drinkers, 84 percent say state laws should be updated to allow it.

Brewing Industry Guide Staff Mar 10, 2021 - 5 min read

Report: Consumer Interest in Direct-Shipped Beer Outpaces Its Legality Primary Image

Photo: Jamie Bogner

While the wine industry enjoys liberal interstate commerce, beer mostly remains locked into a system that prevents direct-to-customer (DTC) shipping. Currently, only 13 states allow out-of-state breweries to sell and ship beer directly to people’s homes.

In a report released March 9, the vast majority of beer drinkers surveyed said it should be legal to do so, while most brewers also said they would consider DTC shipping if it were allowed.

Harris Poll conducted the survey in January for Sovos ShipCompliant—a firm whose technical support helps alcoholic-beverage companies cope with the complexities of state and federal regulations. The survey included more than 1,800 consumers and almost 150 independent brewers. Among those consumers were 568 who identified as those who drink craft beer at least once per month.

Here are some of the key findings:

  • Of the brewers surveyed, 13 percent said they were currently engaged in DTC shipping—but 70 percent would consider it, if it were legal in their states.
  • Among breweries that do DTC shipping, 89 percent said that their home states are their primary markets. However, 11 percent said they sell more DTC volume out of state than in state.
  • Among regular craft-beer drinkers, 84 percent said state laws should be updated to allow DTC shipping, while 80 percent said they would be more likely to try new brands if they could purchase them that way.
  • Meanwhile, 78 percent said they wish they could purchase a beer enjoyed while traveling if it isn’t available near their home.
  • About 57 percent said they already have bought beer from a brewery and had it shipped to their homes via a third-party carrier.
  • COVID-19 may be giving this some impetus; 73 percent of regular craft-beer drinkers say the pandemic has increased their interest in buying beer via DTC shipping.

“It’s perhaps no surprise that craft-beer drinkers’ interest in having their favorite beverages shipped to their doorsteps grew amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Larry Cormier, Sovos ShipCompliant’s vice president and general manager, in a news release. “Consumers got a taste for DTC beer shipments, and these attitudes and interests are here to stay.”

DTC wine shipping, meanwhile, is legal in 46 states, and it was worth more than $3.7 billion last year, according to Sovos ShipCompliant.

Even before the pandemic, there has been a broad shift toward on-demand commerce that suits people who can shop online when they think of something they want. However, beer largely has been left out of that trend—as a relatively heavy but generally inexpensive product, and because of a patchwork of state and federal laws that prevent direct shipping to customers.

While the rise of specialty beer and the widening of price points have changed the equation for whether it makes sense to ship certain beers, the laws have been relatively static.

“Craft brewers across the country are interested in the market access afforded by all types of direct-to-consumer sales, including DTC shipping,” says Bart Watson, the BA’s chief economist, in a news release. “This is not only a pandemic-induced pivot but a response to the growing demand we see from beer lovers to access their favorite beverage—online and shipped to their homes—the same way they do countless other goods in today’s e-commerce era.”

According to Sovos ShipCompliant, the only states that provide “clear, statutory authority” for breweries to “fulfill sales remotely and across state borders” are Alaska, Kentucky, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia.

However, quirks abound, both within those states and in others. In Oregon, for example, breweries can get a license to ship only to other states that allow DTC beer shipping. In Rhode Island, breweries can only ship beer directly to customers who were physically present at the brewery when they bought it. And in Pennsylvania, off-premises retailers and wholesalers can apply for DTC shipping licenses, but not explicitly breweries.

The full DTC Beer Shipping Report is available here.