Has the beer cave’s time passed? Also, what’s a beer cave?

Walk-in refrigerated beer-selling rooms are a big investment for convenience stores. Are they worth it?

You’re in a convenience store on a hot summer day when you see the glass doors that offer your salvation: a massive walk-in cooler.

beer versus liquor sales by year

Once you step in, you see it’s loaded up with ice-cold beer for sale. Nice.

If this feels familiar, you’ve been in a beer cave. There are 30k-40k of them in the US today, representing ~20% of convenience stores.

Should there be more caves?

It’s a challenging time for selling cold ones. Back in 2000, beer sales were ~2x greater than spirits; now, spirits have outsold beer for a second straight year.

  • It’ll likely get harder, too: The majority of Gen Z consumers prefer gin and vodka over beer and wine.

That makes investing in beer caves a tough call for retailers, especially since smaller 8-by-8-foot caves can cost ~$15k and bigger 20-by-20-foot models can run ~$75k, per CStore Decisions.

Whether it’s a worthwhile investment is pondered in the newly published State of Beer Caves report from iSee Store Innovations.

The answer, from a company that offers storage and display solutions for grocers, is unsurprisingly yes.

But their logic is compelling…

According to the report, stores with beer caves see, on average, 35% more foot traffic, with the average shopper spending $6 more per visit.

  • It also drives impulse purchases and experimentation — Would you rather try one 28-degree can of a new beer, or a gamble on a room-temp case of it?

There are challenges besides cost, like keeping the space navigable, which can require staff attention. Consumers’ biggest complaints involve excess inventory blocking doors, cluttered spaces, and difficulty finding items.

  • Also: Female shoppers tend to avoid them because, well, they’re confined, poorly lit public spaces where it’s easy to feel trapped and this is an imperfect world.

BTW: The beer cave report didn’t have anything about people sneaking into them to lower their core temperature, so you should be good to keep that up this summer.

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