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Beer prices set to spike

Beer drinkers thirsting for their next cold one will soon have to dig a little deeper, and not just in the cooler.

Prices are expected to jump by about a dollar for a 24-can suitcase of several popular domestic beers, starting with Anheuser-Busch brands such as Bud Light and Busch Light as early as next week, local distributors and retailers said Monday.

"Last year, they went up, and we ­didn't raise (prices) at all," said Joel Wold, owner of three Bottle Barn stores in Fargo, West Fargo and Moorhead. "So this time we're going to have to take the jump."

The price hike is among the largest in recent years and is surprising given the economy's current state, said Rick Bergseth, president of Bergseth Bros. of Fargo, which distributes Coors and other brands.

"It's a little bit amazing to us that ... they're willing to risk a price increase," he said. "But these are huge, internationally controlled companies, and I guess they're looking for returns to their shareholders."

Anheuser-Busch raised prices Monday for its distributors, including D-S Beverages Inc. of Moorhead, said D-S president Doug Restemayer. The higher cost will boost the price of a 24-pack by about 6 percent, or $1, he said.

"A lot of the other packages, it'll probably be less noticeable than that," Restemayer said.

MillerCoors is expected to follow suit with price increases for its Coors and Keystone products later this month, Bergseth said. The company hasn't announced hikes for Miller products, but most of their packages are expected to go up in price, too, he said.

Restemayer and Bergseth said the price hikes will average about 3 percent, except for draft beer, which will jump about 5 percent per barrel, Bergseth said. As a result, bar patrons could see a 25-cent bump in draft beer prices, he said.

Price increases typically occur in September or October and tend to gain attention because the major domestic brewers raise their prices at the same time, Restemayer said.

"This one being slightly above what people have seen, especially on a couple of those packages, like I said, it's probably gotten more attention than it really deserves," he said.

Many retailers bought a lot of product before the hike, so it may be a month or two before consumers see the increase, he said.

Last year, beer prices rose about 25 to 50 cents for a suitcase, Wold said. He also expressed surprise at the size of this year's hike.

"We're not sure why, because fuel prices haven't gone up," said Wold, who plans to raise prices on Anheuser-Busch products next week. "It doesn't seem like inflation is going up at that pace. So, we're a little puzzled by it."

Restemayer said beer prices have lagged behind the Consumer Price Index for several years, and Anheuser-Busch is trying to narrow the gap. Attempts to get comment from the brewer weren't successful.

"We like to look at it and think it's still a pretty good bargain," Restemayer said.

Bergseth, whose firm also distributes Summit, Schell and Samuel Adams, said craft beer brewers will probably watch what happens with domestic beers and then decide whether to raise prices in February.

"They're already quite a bit higher (in price), so they'll look at it and see if there's some room," he said, calling the mostly American-owned and produced beers "an affordable luxury" that continues to enjoy market growth.

Top beer-drinking states in 2009 by per-capita consumption

Annual gallons per person 21 and older

Rank, State, Avg.

1, Montana, 43.7

2, New Hampshire, 43.4

3, North Dakota, 42.0

4, Nevada, 39.5

5, South Dakota, 38.7

32, Minnesota, 29.0

Source: Beer Institute