Nielsen: Active Lifestyle Beers Offer Big Opportunity for Craft, IPAs Remain Dominant Style and Value Tops Volume

Consumers are considering health and wellness more and drinking less but willing to spend more on alcoholic beverages when they do drink, members of market research firm Nielsen’s beverage alcohol team shared during last week’s Brewers Association Power Hour webinar.

Here are three takeaways from Nielsen’s latest update on craft’s mid-year performance.

Consumers More Mindful of Health and Wellness

Consumers are now more concerned about health and wellness than any other topic, according to the Conference Board Global Consumer Confidence Survey, in collaboration with Nielsen.

“In fact, that is the first time in the last quarterly Consumer Confidence Survey that they said that — even more so than the economy,” said Danny Brager, Nielsen’s senior vice president of beverage alcohol practice, who was joined by other members of Nielsen’s beverage alcohol team, including Danelle Kosmal, Caitlyn Battaglia and Matthew Drummond.

The most common reason respondents gave for drinking less is that they’re prioritizing health and about half of respondents said they were “making an effort to reduce their overall” alcohol consumption, Brager added.

The health and wellness trend was clear across several product segments. Five of Nielsen’s top 10 growth brands by dollar sales were hard seltzers — White Claw’s variety pack, White Claw Black Cherry, Truly’s Berry variety pack, Truly’s Tropical variety pack and White Claw Mango — for the 36 weeks ending September 7. Three of the top 10 were light beers with an active lifestyle focus, including Michelob Ultra, Michelob Ultra Pure Gold and Corona Premier.

According to Nielsen, hard seltzers crossed the $1 billion sales mark in August for the last 52-week period Kosmal said. She added that the category reached the milestone with about 200 SKUs. Compare that to craft beer sales, which reached $3.2 billion, with 16,000 SKUs during the same time period.

“Seltzers are really functioning in a really efficient way,” she said.

Meanwhile, the top five new products produced by BA-defined craft breweries included two “active lifestyle” beers: Dogfish Head’s Slightly Mighty IPA, which checks in at 95 calories with 3.6 grams of carbohydrates, and Boston Beer Company’s Marathon Brewing 26.2 Brew, with 120 calories and 9 grams of carbohydrates.

Nielsen defined “new products” as any offering that had recorded scan sales in 2019 but not 2018, and “active lifestyle” offerings as those from above-premium brands that hover at 100 calories or less and position themselves as light or sessionable.

The rest of the top five included Bell’s Official IPA, Firestone Walker’s Mind Haze IPA, and Brewery Ommegang’s For the Throne Golden Ale.

“Considering the growing popularity in health and wellness and mindful drinking I think active lifestyle beers are one of the biggest opportunities for craft beer,” Kosmal said. “That isn’t to say that IPAs won’t continue to grow and that there isn’t a place for them, because there definitely is. Consumers still want both — indulgences and more mindful options — so let’s offer them both.”

IPAs Still Dominant, Other Top Styles Shrink

IPAs remain the top-selling style in craft, and the only style among craft’s top five to gain in dollar share for the 36 weeks ending September 7. The next four styles — seasonal, witbier, variety packs, and American pale ales — each lost at least 5% of dollar share. IPAs accounted for 30% of all craft dollars and grew dollar sales 10%. The next style to grow share was Imperial/Double/Triple IPAs, which account for 6% of total craft dollars and grew by 9% during the survey period.

“It’s really just getting a variety of IPAs on the shelf and having IPAs and products in general in a portfolio that can speak to a variety of consumer needs,” Battaglia said.

Other styles increasing sales during period included blonde or golden ales, bocks, American wheat beers, and pilsners, which together account for 8% dollar share and grew 21.5%. Fruit and vegetable beers hold 1% of dollar share and grew 23.4%. And American lagers hold 1% of dollar share and grew 55%.

On American lagers, Battaglia cautioned that although the 55% dollar growth rate seems large, it’s off a tiny base. She noted that the few growing styles share similar flavor characteristics such as crispness and refreshment.

Premiumization: Value Tops Volume

While consumers report that they’re drinking fewer alcoholic beverages, trends show that they’re spending more. Battaglia said several off-premise metrics, such as household penetration and frequency of shopping trips, have remained steady, but dollars spent are increasing. Both she and Drummond, who shared on-premise data, reported that consumers are willing to pay more for local brands both on- and off-premise.

“Consumers tend to be willing to pay a premium — almost a $5 premium — when it comes to paying for local craft, compared to some of the more national or non-local varieties or offerings,” Battaglia said.

The willingness to spend more manifests itself in the on-premise arena as beer volume is down 1.8%, but value is up nearly 1%, according to year-to-date Nielsen CGA data. By comparison, wine was up nearly 1% in volume and 1.3% in value, while spirits were up 1.7% in volume and 2.6% in value.

“Value is outpacing velocity and volume in all categories,” Drummond said. “It goes to show the premiumization in the whole alcohol segment.”

Nielsen Scan Data Resources Coming

Starting November 1, BA members will be able to access downloadable off-premise data through the trade group’s website,, Kosmal announced at the end of the webinar.

“It can answer some of the most common questions that we hear from all of you – how are craft styles performing? What are the fastest growing styles? What are some of the fastest growing brands?” Kosmal said.

The spreadsheets will be updated quarterly.

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