The key summer selling season ended on a high note for the beer category, as dollar sales of beer, cider and FMBs increased 4.4% in off-premise retailers during the Labor Day holiday week (ending August 31) compared to the same time last year, market research firm Nielsen reported.
There is one caveat: Sales data was not yet available for Sunday, September 1, or Monday, September 2. Still, the firm’s report provides a glimpse of the important Labor Day holiday, which, together with the Fourth of July, are typically the biggest beer selling occasions annually. As Brewbound previously reported, dollar sales of beer/cider/FMBs increased 4.9% during the Fourth of July holiday week, according to Nielsen.
Nevertheless, the story coming out of Labor Day was once again hard seltzers, which posted triple-digit dollar sales growth, up 175%, according to Nielsen. In fact, the Labor Day holiday week accounted for 5.4% of hard seltzer sales year-to-date.
Recall that dollar sales of hard seltzers increased 147% during the Fourth of July holiday week. And despite the strong sales growth during Labor Day, Nielsen said Independence Day “still reigns supreme” in terms of dollar importance, with the July 4 holiday contributing 17% more dollars than Labor Day.
Nielsen also shared its list of “top 10 growth brands” for the Labor Day holiday, which was also dominated by hard seltzer brands. The top-selling hard seltzer brand in off-premise retailers, Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw, claimed the top spot, along with two other positions on the list. The top 10 growth brands, in order, include:
- White Claw Hard Seltzer Assorted Pack
- Modelo Especial
- Michelob Ultra Lager
- White Claw Hard Seltzer Black Cherry
- Truly Hard Seltzer Berry Mix
- Truly Hard Seltzer Tropical Mix
- White Claw Hard Seltzer Mango
- Natural Light Naturdays Strawberry Lemonade
- Corona Refresca Assorted Pack
- Michelob Ultra Pure Gold Lager
Overall FMB dollar sales grew more than 47% during the week, while super premiums (+8.9%), imports (+6.1%) and non-alcoholic beer (+22%) also accelerated, Nielsen reported. Craft dollar sales were flat during the Labor Day week, rebounding from a poor July 4 week sales (-2.6% compared to 2018).
Sales of budget (-1.2%) and premium (-4.7%) beer brands declined during the week, with premium lights (-4.6%) and premium regulars (-5.3%) sales in decline.
As for Mexican imports, they continued to outpace the import segment, growing dollar sales 8.5% compared to 2018.
Meanwhile, market research firm IRI also offered insight into the Labor Day holiday week, reporting total beer dollar sales growth of 7.1%, to $858 million, and volume sales growth of 3.4% at off-premise, multi-outlet and convenience stores during the week ending September 1.
FMBs, including hard seltzers, grew dollar sales 55.1%, to more than $107.5 million, for the week, while volume sales increased 53.5% for the week.
Other segments growing dollar sales during the Labor Day week, include imports (+7.9%), domestic sub-premiums (+2.4%), craft (+1.6%), domestic super premiums (+12.9%) and non-alcoholic beer (+27%), according to IRI. However, volume sales declined slightly for both domestic sub-premium beers (-0.5%) and craft (-0.2%).
Dollar and volume sales declines continued for beer’s largest segment, domestic premiums, down 2.7% and 4.3%, respectively. Cider was the only other segment to record both dollar (-4.1%) and volume (-6.2%) declines.
Boston-headquartered on-demand alcohol delivery company Drizly also weighed in on hard seltzer’s growth trends during the Labor Day holiday. Hard seltzers accounted for 22% of sales during Labor Day, while light beer made up 18% of the beer category sales, Drizly reported. By comparison, light beer sales accounted for more of a percentage of sales than hard seltzers during the Memorial Day (21% vs. 12% seltzer) and July 4 (21% vs. 17%) holidays. Drizly added that the shift in share lead took place in late July and “and has remained steady since.”
Still, there may be slight signs of a slow down. Drizly reported that after months of growth, hard seltzer sales declined 1% from August 25-31 to September 1-7.
“This could be attributed either to the start of changing seasonal tastes or to the shortage we’re starting to hear about across the country,” Drizly said.
About that shortage, White Claw, president Phil Rosse released a statement saying the company is “working around the clock to increase current supply and total capacity heading into 2020.”
“We’ve had distributors on allocation since last September to keep all markets in stock as best we can,” he said. “We expect to continue to do so until we get back to a normalized safety stock position. While not completely eliminating intermittent stock outs we believe this strategy has helped us be in the best position possible on shelf. But with the tremendous response we have had from consumers, understandably, our supply chain has tightened.”
So are all of these hard seltzer sales adding volume to the beer category? According to National Beer Wholesalers Association chief economist Lester Jones, the answer is yes.
“Between weeks 28 and 35 of 2019, the industry saw about a 5-point lift in average weekly volumes compared to 2018,” Jones wrote in a column on the trade organization’s website. “In part due to a healthy economy, more consumer spending, favorable weather, and of course new products such as hard seltzers.”
According to Jones, demand for hard seltzers continued to accelerate after the Fourth of July holiday rather than regress to more seasonal averages.
“[D]istributors saw a dramatic and significant shift toward increasing demand for each new week through week 35,” he wrote. “Surprisingly this major shift in trend following the Fourth of July holiday continued throughout the summer, with strong retailer/consumer demand rolling into the Labor Day Weekend.”
Jones concluded that hard seltzer sales after Labor Day will help determine whether those brands have claimed “a piece of the industry.”