IRI: Craft Pilsners on Fire in Q1


It’s hard to believe how quickly the pages of our calendars turned, but the first quarter is officially in the books and IRI’s latest figures (through March 22) are in.

Craft is still flying high — total dollar sales are up more than 20 percent in the research firm’s multi-outlet and convenience store (MULC) universe, which comprises grocery, drug, Wal-Mart, club, dollar, mass-merchandiser and military stores.

While there wasn’t much eyebrow raising movement amongst craft’s more popular styles, there was one shocking statistic: the 180 degree turnaround of the pilsner category. At this time last year, sales of craft pilsners were down 5.4 percent in MULC. Fast-forward 365 days and sales are now up more than 100 percent. Pilsners are now 1 percent of all craft beers sold, according to IRI.

Bart Watson, the Brewers Association’s chief economist, actually wrote about the emergence of craft lagers back in February and predicted growth within the subsegment.

“Going booth to booths at the recent craft brewer pavilion at the National Grocers Association show, nearly every brewer had a great pilsner,” he wrote. “Some were brands that have been around for a while, but there were plenty of new additions. Those new entries are combining with longer-term brands to create new excitement around pilsners.”

In his blog post, Watson, commenting on lagers’ longer fermentation times, said new capacity could be one reason why craft brewers are beginning to explore the style.

For those of you who follow the IRI scans, and our routine spot-checks, most of the other numbers will look pretty familiar:

Sales of craft IPA are up more than 45 percent in MULC and 61 percent in c-stores. Through March 23 of last year, IPAs were up 50 percent and 64 percent in those channels, respectively.

One of the segment’s largest players, Boston Beer, experienced both sides of those trends. Sales of the segment’s largest lager brand, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, were down more than 2 percent during the quarter. This time last year, the brand was on a tear, up more than 15 percent.

Perhaps drinkers are choosing Boston’s Rebel IPA instead? Dollar sales of that brand in were up more than 109 percent during the same period, according to IRI.

But a deeper look at the numbers reveals another interesting trend beginning to take shape. While crafts most popular brands – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Shiner Bock and New Belgium Fat Tire, to name a few – are still growing, individually, they’re losing ground to the “long tail” of new craft entrants.

18 of the top 30 craft brands lost dollar share points. In fact, only two of the top 10 brands – Lagunitas IPA and Rebel IPA – actually posted dollar share gains of craft through the first 80 days of the year.

And for those that still need more proof that customers are more regularly choosing brands from companies outside of the top 25, look no further than the dollar sales growth from a newly added grouping in IRI’s data set, “all other vendors.” Sales from that new unit — which could include various craft brewers, cider companies and other malt beverage producers — are up 291 percent. Collectively, those brands still only control about than one-tenth of one percent of the entire beer market, however.

Additional highlights:

  • Dollar sales for Mexican imports were up 12.7 percent, to more than $619 million.
  • Sales of craft farmhouse/saison ales eclipsed $1 million during the period, up more than 130 percent.
  • The cider category continued to grow a double-digit clip — dollar sales were up 47 percent in MULC, to $86 million.
  • Sales of Sierra Nevada variety packs (in MULC) were up 938 percent.