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Coming soon to your local Walmart: more craft beer. In another sign that the fast-growing segment is going mainstream, the nation's largest company and biggest beer seller is planning to add shelf space to accommodate more craft brews, former Walmart CEO Lee Scott told distributors this week at their annual convention in Las Vegas. Mr. Scott, who retired as CEO in 2009 but still serves on the board, said he recently talked to a top Walmart official who is "clearly is in line with the fact we've got to make more space, we have to have more representation on assortment."
Walmart, Mr. Scott added, "built the company on two things: One was price, but the other was assortment, and 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."
Small breweries are coming online at a record pace. In 2010 a total of 1,753 breweries of all sizes operated for some or all of the year, the highest total since the late 1800s, according to the Brewers Association. "Anyone who thinks this has peaked, we've maxed it out totally, I got news for ya -- not yet," Beer Marketers Insights president Benj Steinman told distributors. "Of course there is a theoretical limit and it is going to separate more out into winners and losers over time. But this is a trend that right now has the wind at its back."