Nielsen: Beer Sales Top $1 Billion During Memorial Day Week; Total More Than $2 Billion Over Last 2 Weeks

Off-premise beer category sales topped $1 billion for the second consecutive week, which included the Memorial Day holiday, according to the latest one-week data slice shared by market research firm Nielsen.

For the week ending May 30, beer category scans in Nielsen tracked channels increased 18.2%, to $1,062,451,981. That total was just $28 million behind beer category sales during the July 4 holiday week in 2019, the firm reported.

Week-over-week sales of beer, FMBs and cider increased 2.4%, making beer the only alcohol category — and one of the few consumer goods categories — to grow sales compared to the prior week. Danelle Kosmal, Nielsen VP of the Beverage Alcohol Practice, called the week ending May 30 among the “slowest growth weeks since March.”

The deceleration of off-premise growth trends was expected as some bars and restaurants have begun reopening on-premise service across the country.

Nielsen also offered a review of the two weeks of off-premise sales encompassing the Memorial Day holiday period, as beer category dollar sales topped $2 billion, an increase of $344 million (or 19.6%) compared to the same two-week period in 2019.

Beer category dollar sales are up 17.3% year-to-date through May 31, according to Bump Williams Consulting (BWC), which shared its own data analysis citing IRI numbers. During the COVID-19 purchasing period (March 8 through May 31), beer dollar sales are up 23.8%, to nearly $11.3 billion.

These sales numbers come with a caveat: Although the beer category continues to string together strong double-digit dollar sales growth in off-premise retailers, those gains haven’t been enough to make up for the loss of on-premise sales, and they don’t reflect the entirety of industry increases or declines. That’s especially true for craft beer, as an estimated 40% of craft volume flows through the on-premise trade.

Nevertheless, for offerings such as hard seltzers, which over-index in off-premise sales, the picture is a bit more clear. During the two weeks encompassing Memorial Day, hard seltzers accounted for nearly half (+44.6%) of beer category growth dollars. The hard seltzer segment increased dollar sales 250%, to $215 million, a significant increase from 2019’s total of $61 million.

During that two-week period, Mark Anthony Brand’s White Claw was the beer category’s No. 1 growth brand. White Claw contributed 23% of the beer category’s growth and now represents 5.3% of total category dollars, Nielsen reported.

“This is even more impressive considering that last year, the entire hard seltzer segment had 3.5% of category dollars for the two weeks of Memorial Day sales,” Kosmal wrote. “White Claw wasn’t the only seltzer among strong category performers for Memorial Day. Truly was ranked No. 2 among growth brands, followed by Modelo, Mich Ultra, and Bud Light Seltzer.”

Year-to-date through the end of May, Mark Anthony Brands’ portfolio-wide dollar sales have increased nearly 143% and have already topped $1 billion in off-premise retailers, according to IRI data shared by BWC. The White Claw brand family alone made up nearly $701.7 million of those dollars in off-premise retailers.

BWC added that hard seltzer brands made up eight of the beer category’s top 15 growth brands for the last week in May, with Bud Light Seltzer’s variety pack generating more incremental dollars than Bud Light beer.

Other notes from Nielsen:

  • Segments increasing off-premise dollar sales for the week ending May 30 included Mexican imports (+17.5%), super premiums (+16.4%), FMBs excluding seltzers (+15.4%), craft beer (+13.7%), premium lights (+7.5%), premium regulars (+6.9%), and budget (+3.2%), Nielsen reported.
  • In California, beer category sales showed a noticeable shift in May as growth rates in the southern part of the state began to outpace those to the northern half of the state and maintained that pattern through the end of the month. As National Beer Wholesalers Association chief economist Lester Jones discussed during last week’s Brewbound Frontlines event, some of that beer is finding its way across the border to Mexico after that country’s government ordered production to slow down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • As for pack sizes, Nielsen reported that 12-packs continue to post the strongest growth rates (+38.1%,) in off-premise retailers, followed by 30-packs (+24.8%) and 24-packs (+21.4%). Six-packs are up just 8.5%.
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