Hard Seltzers Help Drive 2019 Beer Category Dollar Sales Growth through November

With just one month left in 2019, off-premise beer dollar and volume sales appear poised to finish in the black.

Through the first 11 months of 2019, off-premise beer category dollar sales in multi-outlet and convenience stores tracked by market research firm IRI are up 5.2%, to nearly $34.5 billion, while volume sales are up 2.3%.

The largest dollar sales growth in 2019 thus far has come from flavored malt beverages, including hard seltzers. According to IRI, FMB dollar sales are up 42%, to more than $3.6 billion, and the growth has accelerated over the last four and 12 weeks, up 61% and nearly 60%, respectively.

Other segments growing dollar sales through November, according to IRI, include imports (+6.3%), domestic sub-premiums (+1.2%), craft (+2.9%), domestic super premiums (+13.3%) and non-alcoholic beers (+22.4%). Just two segments, domestic premiums (-3.1%) and cider (-2.1%) were in the red.

Meanwhile, market research firm Nielsen reports that total beer, FMB and cider off-premise sales are up 3.1% for the 52 weeks ending November 30.

Unlike IRI, Nielsen breaks out hard seltzer data into its own segment. Hard seltzer dollar sales are up more than 208% year-over-year, while FMBs and coolers are up 36.2%. The picture isn’t nearly as rosy for other segments in Nielsen’s latest 52-week data set, as domestic premiums (-4.3%), light beers (-4.2%), regular beer (-4.4%), budget beer (-1.6) and craft (-0.6%) are all in decline.

Industry trade association the Beer Institute (BI) today also released the latest domestic tax paid estimate from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which showed that U.S. brewers shipped nearly 1% more beer in November 2019 than they did at the same time last year. November’s increase in shipments marked just the third time in 2018 that year-over-year shipments increased, which the BI attributed to the popularity of hard seltzers.

Through the first 11 months of 2019, U.S. brewers have shipped a total of 151.8 million barrels, down 1.5% (or 2.3 million barrels) compared to last year. Additionally, the BI said consumer spending on domestically produced beer increased 1.4% in November.

Looking ahead to 2020, Nielsen also shared prognostications for the New Year. Notably, the firm believes that the number of companies involved in hard seltzer will double next year, while sub-segments will develop within hard seltzer, including offerings with higher ABVs (see Pabst and Four Loko), healthy ingredients, bolder flavors and new innovations around hard kombucha and hard coffee.

Nevertheless, Nielsen said hard seltzer growth rates won’t match this past summer, but growth will be fueled by the introduction of new brands, flavors, and packaging formats. Beyond seltzers, growth for beer companies, Nielsen said, will come from products other than beer, including ready-to-drink cocktails, traditional spirits, and hemp, among others.

Nielsen isn’t alone in predicting continued growth for hard seltzer. Boston-based on-demand alcohol delivery company Drizly recently released its own set of predictions, forecasting slow and steady growth for hard seltzers in the early months of 2020 with “likely another boom” during the summer months.

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