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Boston Beer Looks to Take Back the Craft Brew Market

By Steve Symington – Jul 15, 2016 at 7:28PM

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Here's what to watch when the Samuel Adams brewer reports next week.

Boston Beer is working to resume growing its share of the "better beer" market. Image source: The Motley Fool.

I hope you're thirsty, Boston Beer (SAM -0.56%) investors. Your favorite brewer is set to release second-quarter 2016 results next Thursday, July 21, after the market close, and it's time to start thinking about what to expect. 

Shares of Boston Beer have fallen 16% so far in 2016 as of this writing, but for good reason: The craft-brewer's management believes its flagship Samuel Adams brand has lost market share in each of its past two quarters, even as growth in the overall "better beer" and craft categories remained strong. Three months ago, Boston Beer founder and chairman Jim Koch blamed last quarter's weakness on "increased competition and continued growth of drinker interest in variety and innovation."

Regarding the former, Koch explained that new craft brewers continue to enter the market at a rapid clip, while regional competitors continue to expand distribution. But Boston Beer has stopped innovating.

Though Boston Beer lamented "slow" starts for its newest beers launched last quarter, including the Samuel Adams Nitro series and Rebel Grapefruit IPA, Koch also described encouraging momentum for the varieties toward the end of the quarter. Listen closely next week, then, for any elaboration not only on the performance of Boston Beer's newest offerings, but also for whether that momentum carried over into the second quarter.

Boston Beer also owns the popular Angry Orchard and Twisted Tea brands, and CEO Martin Roper promised last quarter that new programs were being developed to reverse a broad decline in the cider category that began late last year "after several years of high growth." Around this time last year these supplementary brands stood out as bright spots driving depletions growth -- a key measure for how fast its products travel from warehouses to consumer outlets -- even as the beer market became more crowded. Roper insisted that these declines should prove temporary, and took solace, noting that Angry Orchard has maintained its high market share all the while.

More broadly speaking, Boston Beer also kicked off a comprehensive review of its brand messaging and packaging last quarter as part of its efforts to improve trends. But don't expect to see the fruits of that effort in Q2, as Boston Beer hopes to complete the review some time in the second half of this year. 

As for specific financials, Boston Beer doesn't typically provide guidance on a quarterly basis; but it does offer insight on full-year expectations. Boston Beer's most-recent outlook calls for full-year 2016 earnings per diluted share between $6.50 and $7.30 compared to earnings of $7.25 per share in 2015. Driving that bottom line are assumptions for depletions and shipments changes ranging from a decline of 4% to growth of 2%, price increases between 1% and 2%, and gross margin between 51% and 53%.

Boston Beer also anticipates ad, promo, and selling expenses to range from breakeven to an increase of $10 million over last year, with capital spending between $50 million and $70 million. These ranges are each the result of Boston Beer's efforts to rein in costs, given its current market headwinds. Two quarters ago, it expected to increase ad, promo, and selling expenses $10 million to $20 million over 2015, with greater capital spending of $60 million to $80 million.

There is, however, one silver lining here. If Boston Beer is able to successfully resume gaining market share in the coming quarters, it will emerge a leaner, more-profitable business. For now, however, we'll need to wait until next week to get our next taste of how Boston Beer is faring as it strives toward that goal.

Steve Symington has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Boston Beer. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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