After consecutive weeks of consumers stocking up on alcoholic beverages at off-premise retailers in mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the first signs of a slowdown began to show during the week ending March 28, according to market research firm Nielsen.
Nevertheless, sales outpaced a typical final week in March, increasing 22% compared to the same one-week period in 2019, and outpacing the growth of total consumer goods, which were up 16%, the firm reported.
Beer, FMB and cider dollar sales increased 17% for the week ending March 28, with all segments growing and several still up double digits, Nielsen reported. Meanwhile, dollar sales of wine and spirits each increased 27% for the week.
Beer, excluding FMBs and cider, increased dollar sales 10%, with super premiums up 18%, craft up 15%, premium lights up 7.5%, budget up 7.3% and imports up 8.7%.
Hard seltzers continued to be the beer category’s growth driver, increasing sales 327% and gaining 2.5 share points during the week, outpacing pre-COVID-19 growth rates, Nielsen reported.
FMBs, excluding hard seltzers, increased 18%, while cider increased dollar sales 15% compared to the same week in 2019, according to Nielsen.
Consumers continued to gravitate toward larger pack sizes (24-packs and up) compared to smaller packs, Nielsen added. During the week ending March 28, 24-packs sales increased 41%, while 30- and 36-packs increased 36% and 33%, respectively.
In a separate weekly report, Bump Williams Consulting (BWC), citing IRI Advantage data for the week ending March 22, noted that beer dollar sales increased 17.1%, to around $769.9 million, compared to the same week in 2019, but the growth rate has slowed compared to the previous two weeks in mid-March.
According to BWC, eight separate hard seltzer brands ranked among the top 15 growth brands in the beer category, including three White Claw SKUs, three Truly SKUs and the variety packs for Bud Light and Corona hard seltzer brands.
BWC also noted that the top 15 vendors, top 15 families and top 15 brands all continued to grow dollar sales during the week ending March 29. However, BWC noted that some “industry-leading craft brands” have started to revert back to pre-COVID-19 trends, including New Beligum’s Fat Tire Amber Ale (-2% for the week ending March 29) and Leinenkugel’s Shandy (-1.1%).
BWC noted that stockpiling trips have reached their weekly peak, and additional stockpiling and replenishment trips have begun to settle in.
IRI: Beer Dollar Sales Increase 18% for 4 Weeks Ending March 22
Beer dollar sales in off-premise retailers are up 10.3%, to $7.9 billion, year-to-date through March 22 in off-premise multi-outlet and convenience stores tracked by market research firm IRI.
For the four-week period ending March 22, dollar sales increased 18%, to $2.9 billion, the firm reported. Over those four weeks, all segments increased dollar sales: domestic premium (+7.4%), imports (+15.4%), domestic sub-premium (+9.3%), FMBs (86.1%), craft (15.2%), domestic super premiums (20.5%), cider (+9.6%) and non-alcoholic (50.5%).
Over the last four weeks, the top 11 selling craft brands are up at least double digits, with Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA the only brand up triple digits (+137.4% for the four weeks, and up 123.2% year-to-date).
Among the brands reversing their year-to-date trends have been flagship offerings such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (+10.7% for the last four weeks, but -0.4% year-to-date), Samuel Adams Boston Lager (+22.3% for the last four weeks, and now +2.3% year-to-date) and New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale (+12.6% for the four weeks, but -2.6% year-to-date).
Fast-growing brands over the last four weeks include New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA (+8,355%) and Voodoo Ranger Liquid Paradise IPA (+132.6%).
Sierra Nevada’s portfolio-wide dollar sales are up 26.4% over the last four weeks, and up 13.6% year-to-date. New Belgium dollar sales are up 36.9% during the four-week period, and up 20.1% year-to-date.
Other notable craft beer companies posting double-digit dollar sales growth over the last four weeks include Gambrinus (+17.1%), Craft Brew Alliance (+10.1%), CANarchy (+29.9%), Firestone Walker (+34.1%), Bell’s (+50.9%) and Artisanal Brewing Ventures (+28.1%).
Among the top 25 overall vendors, dollar sales for only one company, Stone Brewing (-4.1%), were in decline during the four-week period ending March 22. Comparatively, year-to-date dollar sales are in the red for four companies, including D.G. Yuengling & Son (-1.1%), Lagunitas (-0.2%), Stone (-11.6%) and Deschutes Brewery (-5.4%). The negative trends rebounded for Yuengling (+8.9%), Lagunitas (+6.2%) and Deschutes (+2.5%).
Over the last four weeks, dollar sales for the largest beer companies continued to grow, including Aneheuser-Busch InBev (+11.6%), Molson Coors (+10.6%), Constellation Brands (+24%), Mark Anthony Brands (+142.7%), Heineken USA (+7.5%), Boston Beer (+55.1%), Diageo (+13.3%) and Pabst (+11.1%).
The top two hard seltzer brands, Mark Anthony’s White Claw and Boston Beer’s Truly, continued their triple-digit growth trends, up 363.5% and 226.1%, respectively, for the four weeks ending March 22. White Claw and Truly are up 330.4% and 207.4%, respectively, year-to-date.
NBWA’s Beer Purchasers’ Index ‘Stalls’ in March
The National Beer Wholesalers Association’s monthly Beer Purchasers’ Index — which surveys wholesalers’ monthly buying behavior — “stalled” in March with a reading of 50.
An index of 50 points or more indicates that purchasing in a segment is expanding; while a reading below 50 indicates contraction.
After posting readings above 90 in January and February, the FMB/seltzer segment slowed, with an index of 80 in March 2020, just two points above its March 2019 reading.
The craft index dropped to what the NBWA called “an all-time low,” with an index of 35 in March 2020, down from its 55 reading in March 2019. Cider also “took another big hit,” with a reading of 29 in March, down from a reading of 48 in March 2019.
The NBWA noted that the “at-risk inventory” index — inventory at risk of going out of code over the next 30 days — was a 44, and has remained under 50 for the last nine months. However, the craft segment’s at risk index increased to 65 in March 2020, up from 58 in March 2019, due to the temporary closure of on-premise accounts due to the COVID-19 outbreak.