A majority of Americans say beer is their alcoholic beverage of choice during the July 4 holiday, according to a survey commissioned by national trade group the Beer Institute (BI).
The poll — conducted by Quadrant Strategies between June 21-25 — asked 1,000 legal-drinking-age adults which alcoholic beverage they’d be consuming or serving during Independence Day. Beer was the answer for 75 percent of the respondents.
That’s good news for breweries as an important summer selling season gets underway, and as the beer category continues to lose so-called “share of throat” to wine and spirits and works to stem ongoing volume declines. Through the first four months of the year, U.S. beer companies have shipped nearly 439,000 fewer barrels of beer compared to 2018, according to the BI, citing unofficial estimates of domestic tax paid shipments by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
The Fourth of July holiday, along with Labor Day, are typically the two largest beer selling occasions each year. In 2018, the July 4 holiday week accounted for nearly 3 percent of beer dollar sales — with nearly $800 million in sales — making it the largest beer selling week of the year, according to market research firm Nielsen. Nevertheless, consumer spending on beer that week (ending July 7) declined 1.6 percent. However, dollar sales of flavored malt beverages (FMBs) such as hard seltzers, and coolers grew 12.1 percent. In fact, the July 4 holiday week accounted for more than 4 percent of all FMB/cooler dollar sales last year, Nielsen said.
The increase in FMB dollar sales last July 4 was due to the growth of hard seltzers, which increased sales 150 percent, to $16.1 million, Nielsen said. Much of those sales were coming as consumers picked up hard seltzer variety packs, which grew sales 300 percent that week, the firm added. Sales of other beyond beer offerings also accelerated during this timeframe last year, as hard cider (+8.5 percent) and canned wine (+56.5 percent) both grew dollar sales.
Meanwhile, at the halfway point of 2019, total beer dollar sales in off-premise retailers are up 1.6 percent, to nearly $18.7 billion, according to Nielsen. The dollar sales growth is largely due to hard seltzers, which increased sales nearly 211 percent, to nearly $411 million, through June 15. Additionally, domestic super premiums (+11.9 percent) and imports (+6.3 percent) continue to grow, while craft dollar sales are down nearly 1 percent.
Beer category dollar sales trends are slightly higher in off-premise retailers tracked by market research firm IRI. Total beer dollar sales are up 2.9 percent, to more than $16 billion, halfway through the year in the Chicago-based market research firm’s multi-outlet and convenience store universe. Volume sales, however, are roughly flat (+0.4 percent).
IRI reported dollar sales growth in the import (+5.8), craft (+2.9 percent), FMB (+24.9 percent), domestic super premium (+12.7 percent) and non-alcoholic (+14.6 percent) segments, while domestic premiums (-3.9 percent), domestic sub-premiums (-0.0 percent) and cider (-2.2 percent) were all in decline.
Portfolio-wide sales for three of the top five beer manufacturers — Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken USA (HUSA) — are all in the red. The dollar sales declines for A-B ($626,042) weren’t nearly as steep compared to its largest competitors, MillerCoors and HUSA, which were down $76 million and $20 million, respectively.
However, Constellation Brands (+10.4 percent) and White Claw maker Mark Anthony Brands (+53.2 percent) bucked those trends.
The top two selling beer brands in the U.S. — Bud Light and Coors Light — continue to decline, according to IRI. Midway through 2019, Bud Light dollar sales are down 5.7 percent, which amounts to a decline of nearly $135.7 million. Coors Light dollar sales are down 2.5 percent, a loss of nearly $25.3 million.
On top of the Bud Light declines, Budweiser has fallen outside of the top five best selling beer brands in the U.S., with dollar sales down 4.8 percent, a loss of more than $41 million compared to last year, IRI said.
Offsetting some of the losses for A-B is the growth of Michelob Ultra, now the third best selling beer brand at off-premise retail accounts year-to-date through June 16. Michelob Ultra sales grew 15.3 percent, as the brand closes in on $1 billion in sales, IRI reported.
Meanwhile, MillerCoors’ other flagship brand, Miller Lite, grew dollars nearly 1 percent.
Constellation Brands’ largest offering, Modelo Especial, is now the fifth best selling beer brand, boasting a dollar sales growth of 19.3 percent, according to IRI.
As for White Claw, the top selling hard seltzer brand in off-premise retailers, sales of its variety pack are up 294.2 percent, to more than $101 million, while sales of its Black Cherry flavor increased 284.3 percent, to more than $47 million, through June 16, IRI reported.
Sales of White Claw’s top competitor, Boston Beer Company’s Truly Hard Seltzer, are also up triple digits, growing 445.6 percent, to more than $39 million, IRI said. Truly’s variety pack is also growing dollar sales, up 89.2 percent, to more than $33 million.
The growth of Truly, as well as Twisted Tea (+14.5 percent), have helped boost Boston Beer Company’s sales, up 19.6 percent, to nearly $452 million. Meanwhile, sales of the company’s flagship beer offering, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, are lagging. The beer has dropped out of IRI’s top 10 craft brands, declining 12.1 percent, while sales of the company’s seasonal offerings (-3.2 percent) and Sam ‘76 lager (-17.5 percent) are also in decline.
Among top 10 beer manufacturers, Pabst Brewing Co. is down more than 8 percent, with sales dipping more than $20 million, through the first half of 2019, IRI reported. Pabst Blue Ribbon dollar sales are down 8.6 percent. Other top 25 beer companies in decline through mid-June include D.G. Yuengling (-2.9 percent), Phusion Projects (-6.5 percent), Shiner maker Gambrinus (-6.6 percent), Craft Brew Alliance (-2.1 percent) and Stone Brewing (-0.9 percent), IRI said.
Nevertheless, several regional craft beer companies have managed to increase sales amid increasing competition. New Belgium (+8.6 percent), Founders (+16.3 percent), Canarchy (+27.7 percent), Bell’s Brewery (+5 percent), Firestone Walker (+22.8 percent), Sweetwater (+5.6 percent), Artisanal Brewing Ventures (+14.8 percent) and Dogfish Head (+4.4 percent) each posted positive dollar sales gains, IRI said. Three of the largest craft beer makers — Sierra Nevada (+0.8 percent), Lagunitas (+0.5 percent) and Deschutes (+0.1 percent) — also eked out growth.
However, eight of the top 10 craft offerings are in decline through June 16, according to IRI. Those brands include Blue Moon Belgian White (-0.8 percent), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (-5.8 percent), Shiner Bock (-4.2 percent), Leinenkugel’s Shandy (-13.8 percent), Lagunitas IPA (-0.8 percent), Shock Top (-18.2 percent), New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale (-10.3 percent) and Samuel Adams seasonal (-3.2 percent). Only two top 10 craft beer brands have grown dollar sales so far in 2019: Founders All Day IPA (+14.6 percent) and A-B-owned Elysian Space Dust IPA (+27 percent).
In fact, under half of the top 25 craft brands are in the black so far in 2019: Firestone Walker 805 (+17 percent), Bell’s Two Hearted Ale (+2.6 percent), Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA (+126.4 percent), New Belgium Rampant Imperial IPA (+33.4 percent), New Belgium Ranger IPA (+8.8 percent), Cigar City Jai Alai IPA (+52.4 percent), Kona Big Wave Golden Ale (+23.7 percent), the Samuel Adams variety pack (+6.1 percent) and Blue Moon Mango Wheat (+15.7 percent).