Nielsen: Off-Premise Beer Sales Top $1 Billion Leading into Memorial Day Holiday

Off-premise beer category dollar sales topped $1 billion heading into the Memorial Day holiday, according to the latest one-week data shared by market research firm Nielsen.

For the one-week period ending May 23, dollar sales of beer, FMBs and cider increased 20.9% compared to the same week a year ago. Off-premise beer sales had the strongest week of 2020, Nielsen said, and were second only to the July 4 holiday week of 2019 over the last 52 weeks.

The full impact of the Memorial Day holiday won’t be known until scan data for the week ending May 30 is released next week.

Here’s a look at how the week ending May 23 stacked up against the previous 11 weeks of off-premise beer category dollar sales during the COVID-19 period:

  • +8%, to $694.1 million, for the week ending March 7;
  • +15.2%, to $792.7 million, for the week ending March 14;
  • +39.5%, to $968.7 million, for the week ending March 21;
  • +17.9%, to $819.8 million, for the week ending March 28;
  • +19.4%, to $840.3 million, for the week ending April 4;
  • +19.8%, to $863.7 million, for the week ending April 11;
  • +12.3%, to $855.5 million, for the week ending April 18;
  • +20.4%, to $909.5 million, for the week ending April 25;
  • +28.1%, to $966.8 million, for the week ending May 2;
  • +29.3%, $983.6 million, for the week ending May 9;
  • +25.5%, to $964.3 million, for the week ending May 16.

Even as one-week sales topped $1 billion in off-premise retailers, Nielsen noted that growth rates for alcoholic beverages have begun to decelerate. Total alcohol off-premise dollar sales increased 24.8% compared to a year ago, led by spirits (+33.1%), followed by wine (+27.2%) and then the beer category (+20.9%). Nevertheless, alcohol sales continued to outpace the growth rates of other fast moving consumer goods (+11.7%).

As states have eased stay at home restrictions and some restaurants have reopened in limited capacities, off-premise dollar sales “remain critical to sustaining overall alcohol industry growth,” Nielsen said. The firm has estimated that off-premise volume sales would have to maintain a growth rate of at least 22% to offset the loss of on-premise sales. Both spirits (32.6%) and wine (27.1%) have maintained those rates over the last 12 weeks, while the beer category (+17.5%) has fallen short.

Bump Williams Consulting (BWC), citing IRI point of sale data and Nielsen data for total CPG industry trends, noted that the week ending May 24 posted an absolute increase of more than $100 million compared to the prior week. BWC added that the year-over-year growth rate of 22% for the latest period was below the COVID-19 purchasing average of +24%, but outpacing the year-to-date average of +17%.

BWC also looked at where beer sales were “softest” — the Mid-South and Southeast regions, where sales were up 8% to 9%. On the West Coast, dollar sales were up more than 50% in California.

The hard seltzer segment continued its torrid triple-digit growth rate, increasing off-premise dollar sales 272% and reaching 10.1% dollar share of the beer category, Nielsen reported.

Through the 11 weeks of COVID-19 in the U.S., hard seltzers have posted a growth rate of 326% in off-premise retailers and the segment holds 8.25% dollar share of the beer category.

Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw, the top-selling hard seltzer brand, remained atop the top growth brands for the entire beer category. White Claw, combined with Boston Beer Company’s Truly Hard Seltzer, accounted for 32% of the total beer category growth dollars, Nielsen reported.

Other top growth brands for the week included Michelob Ultra, Bud Light Seltzer, Modelo, Bud Light, and Coors Light, according to Nielsen.

BWC noted that Molson Coors’ Blue Moon Light Sky was the top ranked craft beer growth brand, leapfrogging Blue Moon Belgian White and outpacing Sierra Nevada’s Hazy Little Thing IPA. Molson Coors’ craft brands took five of the top 15 craft growth brands, with three of the five — Blue Moon Light Sky, Leinenkugel’s Spritzen and Saint Archer Gold — targeting health conscious consumers.

Other notes:

  • Segments posting off-premise dollar sales growth for the week ending May 23 included premium lights (+8.2%), below premium (+4.0%), craft beer (+14.8%), FMBs excluding seltzer (+18%), Mexican imports (+19.8%), cider (+9.4%), hard tea (+32.1%), kombucha (+89.2%), and non-alcoholic beer (+37.4%).
  • Consumers continue to pull larger pack sizes from store shelves, with dollar sales of 12-packs up 40.9%, 36-packs up 40.3%, 30-packs up 26.1% and 24-packs up 21.8%. All of this is coming at the expense of single-serve offerings and 6-packs, Nielsen said.
  • E-commerce sales remain strong, with online alcohol sales up 253% for the week ending May 16 compared to the same one-week period a year ago, Nielsen reported. New online buyers and basket size are the major contributors to the growth. Average basket size for online alcohol purchases for the four weeks ending May 16 was $68, compared to $23 for alcohol purchases made in brick-and-mortar stores.
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