Beer sales weather market challenges

July 12, 2011
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The beer category showcased a mixed bag of results as the industry saw prices increase and case sales decrease. Consumer preferences seemed to change compared to last year as some domestic below-premium brands saw sales decrease, while imported beers saw high points from a few particular brands.

Domestic beer sales remained relatively flat accounting for more than $18.4 billion in U.S. supermarkets, drug stores, gas and convenience stores and mass merchandise outlets, excluding Wal-Mart, for the 52 weeks ending May 15, according to SymphonyIRI Group, Chicago. Although sales remained unchanged, case sales declined 2.6 percent in measured channels during the same time period. The category saw $0.40 increase in the average price per case.

Category leader and Anheuser-Busch InBev brand Bud Light accounted for more than $5.2 billion in sales at a 1.4 percent increase, while the company’s Budweiser brand saw a 4.3 percent dip in sales and a 5.6 percent decrease in case sales, according to SymphonyIRI.

MillerCoors brand Coors Light had a positive year all around with $2 billion in sales, which represents a 2.8 percent increase, and a 1.9 percent case sales increase, SymphonyIRI states. The company’s Miller Lite brand remained relatively flat in sales with a slight 1.6 percent decrease in case sales.

The company also expanded its low-calorie MGD 64 line with the launch of limited-edition MGD 64 Lemonade.

The Top 10 domestic beer brands also included sub-premium priced brand Keystone Light, which increased sales

2.3 percent for more than $489.5 million and below-premium Natural Ice with $352 million in sales, a 2.5 percent increase, based on SymphonyIRI data.

The imported beer category fared better this year compared to last as it posted $3.4 billion in sales for a 1.1 percent increase. Groupo Modelo’s Corona Extra and Heineken USA’s Heineken brand remain No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, despite posting slight decreases.

The category saw double-digit strides from Crown Imports’ Modelo Especial brand with 16.1 percent increases for more than $292.6 million in sales, SymphonyIRI states. Heineken USA’s Dos Equis XX Lager Especial and Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Stella Artois also had large gains with 23.3 percent and 22.1 percent, respectively.

A bright spot for the industry was craft beer, which accounted for $1.1 billion in sales, which is a 14.2 percent increase. The segment also saw case sales increase 12.5 percent, according to SymphonyIRI.

The Samuel Adams brand family was at the top of the craft beer brand list with $227.3 million in sales at an 8.1 percent growth rate. Samuel Adams owner The Boston Beer Co. continued its tradition of experimentation last year when it released Infinium, a champagne-style beer created in collaboration with Germany’s Weihenstephan Brewery.

All Top 10 craft beer brands posted gains, except for Pyramid’s brand family, which was relatively flat, according to SymphonyIRI.

Magic Hat brands increased the most during the same time period reporting a 21.3 percent increase in sales for more than $25.5 million. Magic Hat and Pyramid’s parent company Independent Brewers United Inc. was sold to North American Breweries Inc. in August 2010.

Goose Island’s brands also performed well with a 20.8 percent increase. The Chicago craft brewer was acquired earlier this year by distribution partner Anheuser-Busch. BI

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