IRI Worldwide: US Beer Sales Flat Through Early December

As the end of 2017 draws near, U.S. beer volume sales remain roughly flat, according to recent data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI Worldwide.

IRI, which tracks beer sales at off-premise retailers, reported that total beer sales through the first 11 months of 2017 exceeded $31.8 billion in the firm’s multi-outlet and convenience (MULC) universe of stores (grocery, drug, club, dollar, mass-merchandiser and military). Through December 3, U.S. beer volume sales declined 0.5 percent while total beer dollar sales increased 1.1 percent.

Domestic premiums (Budweiser, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light and others) — the largest beer segment — are in decline, as volume sales dropped 3.9 percent while dollar sales dipped 3 percent.

Meanwhile, sales of domestic super premium, import, and craft beers continued to grow this year.

Domestic super premiums, such as Michelob Ultra, fared the best: Volume sales grew 9.2 percent while dollar sales increased 11.2 percent. Volume sales of import offerings also grew 6.6 percent, while dollar sales increased 8.4 percent through December 3.

Year-to-date craft beer volume sales, meanwhile, increased 3.6 percent while dollar sales grew 5.5 percent during the period.

Molson Coors’ Blue Moon Belgian White and Leinenkugel’s Shandy ranked among the top three “craft” brands. Case sales of Blue Moon Belgian White increased 6 percent while dollars sales were up 7.3 percent on the year. As for Leinenkugel’s Shandy, case sales increased 9.5 percent while dollars sales were up 11.4 percent.

Nevertheless, many notable craft flagship brands struggled in 2017. As of December 3, case sales declined for several well-known labels, including Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (-9.2 percent) and Torpedo Extra IPA (-5.4 percent); Shock Top Belgian White (-7.9 percent); Samuel Adams Boston Lager (-11.3 percent); and New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale (-12.5 percent).

Those numbers could help to explain portfolio-wide declines for Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada, which both saw year-to-date dollar sales dip 2.4 and 5.5 percent, respectively. Dollar sales also declined for three other top craft beer producers: Craft Brew Alliance (-5.3 percent), Deschutes Brewery (-5.4 percent) and North American Breweries (-6.9 percent).

However, three large craft brewers have managed to eek out single-digit dollar sales growth, including Yuengling (2.8 percent), New Belgium (6.1 percent) and Lagunitas (9.8 percent).

Michigan’s Founders Brewing Company posted the strongest growth among IRI’s top 25 vendors, with dollar sales up 43.2 percent and volume sales up 51.9 percent. Those gains can be attributed to strong sales of All Day IPA, dollar sales for which have grown nearly 47 percent year-to-date.

Several other craft brands have achieved double-digit dollar sales growth so far in 2017, including Bell’s Brewery (19.2 percent), Stone Brewing (14.8 percent), Sweetwater Brewing Company (15.8 percent), Firestone Walker (16.8 percent), Dogfish Head (14.8 percent), New Glarus (11.2 percent) and Artisanal Brewing Ventures (Southern Tier and Victory Brewing, which combined for 15.8 percent growth).

Case sales have increased double-digits for several popular craft brands, including Firestone Walker 805 (30.9 percent), Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (26.2 percent), New Belgium Ranger IPA (39 percent), Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale (14 percent), Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA (16.2 percent) and Kona Big Wave Golden Ale (24 percent).

Meanwhile, overall dollar sales for the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, declined 1.4 percent while volume sales decreased 2.3 percent. Those declines are largely due to lagging sales of its top brands, Bud Light and Budweiser. Year-to-date volume sales of Bud Light declined 5.3 percent while Budweiser volume sales decreased 5.9 percent.

The trends aren’t all bad for A-B, however, as low-carb offering Michelob Ultra grew volume sales more than 20 percent during the period. And case sales for its Goose Island IPA and Elysian Space Dust IPA offerings increased 27.1 and 238.3 percent, respectively.

Portfolio-wide sales for A-B’s largest U.S. competitor, MillerCoors, are also in decline. Volume sales dipped 1.9 while dollar sales declined 1.4 percent through December 3. Volume sales for MillerCoors’ flagship light lagers, Coors Light and Miller Lite, also fell 2.6 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.

Another top producer, Pabst Brewing Company, also struggled in 2017. Portfolio-wide dollar sales dipped 9.4 percent while volume sales of its core product, Pabst Blue Ribbon, remained flat.

Constellation Brands, which produces and distributes the popular Modelo and Corona Mexican import labels, as well as beers from San Diego craft brewery Ballast Point, continued its rise as the only beer company among the top 5 vendors to post increases in both dollar sales (14.1 percent) and volume sales (12.5 percent).

Also growing dollar sales this year were Mark Anthony Brands, owner of the Mike’s Hard Lemonade brand, and Diageo Beer Company, makers of Guinness. Each posted dollar sales increases of 7.7 and 7.8 percent, respectively.

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