Fast-growing Hamm’s looks to stay red-hot in 2018

From its birthplace in Minneapolis-St. Paul to the Pacific Northwest and beyond, Hamm’s has taken the United States beer market by storm.

The beer from the land of sky blue waters is enjoying its best run in decades, helped by expanded distribution and momentum behind its rich heritage.

Hamm’s finished 2017 up 74.6 percent on an 87.3 percent jump in volume, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience data through Dec. 30. And it’s off to an even hotter start in 2018. Sales of the beer are up 96.9 percent on a 105.8 percent rise in case volume over the four weeks ending Jan. 13, enough to vault Hamm’s to Nielsen’s No. 8 growth brand in beer.

“The beauty of Hamm’s is that it has more than 150 years of heritage, and with that comes a group of people who already know and love the brand,” says Amber Smith, of the Hamm’s marketing team. “But it’s not just them; there are a lot of new drinkers who are drawn to the sense of nostalgia associated with the brand. We’ve seen a ton of positive momentum over the past year.”

Riding high on its success in 2017, the Hamm’s brand team plans even more engagement in 2018 with a strategy of marketing around unconventional moments, such as throwing Hamm’s-branded happy hours in bars and celebrating offbeat holidays like “Groundhog Day,” “Tax Day” and today, “National Beer Can Day.”

The Hamm’s happy hours, which launched late 2017, are focused on driving more traffic to bars on slower days of the week by offering specials on Hamm’s beer and giveaways such as T-shirts, koozies and retro pins. They celebrate quirkiness and tongue-in-cheek humor with deals like pairing a Hamm’s beer with a ham sandwich.

Offbeat holiday marketing will be supported with new displays that aim to “give people a laugh while they’re shopping for their favorite beer,” Smith says. “They’re kind of like dad jokes – charming, but innocent and funny.” Around Groundhog Day, for example, a campaign could include an in-store display that says “Our Groundhog Day Prediction: Six More Weeks of Hamm’s!”

Sold at an opening price point, the American lager in 2017 expanded from a mostly Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest footprint to a national platform, winning over economy drinkers as well as craft beer drinkers looking for an easy-drinking alternative to the hop-heavy selections popular in craft.

Hamm’s also has continued to build a stable of longtime loyal fans, or “Hammpions,” who champion and promote the brand on their own, including at an annual, unofficial Hamm’s convention held in mid-February in Minnesota. Hamm’s fans trade and sell their collectible Hamm’s memorabilia while drinking Hamm’s beer.

First brewed in St. Paul in 1865, Hamm’s rose to prominence starting in the 1950s, thanks to its catchy jingle and trademark friendly Hamm's bear. The beer has remained a staple in certain regional markets, but was largely unavailable in much of the country. MillerCoors in late 2016 hatched a plan to market Hamm’s nationally again as a value brand as part of a broader strategy to bolster its economy portfolio.

Hamm’s success in 2017 proved that “there’s absolutely value in this business,” says Ashley Kornbluth, marketing manager for Hamm’s and other MillerCoors economy brands. “As an industry, beer hasn’t always stayed competitive on price, and with Hamm’s, the badge value, nostalgia and affordable price-point are key for us to compete for new drinkers.”

It’s not just Hamm’s pricing that’s driving sales; the quality of the beer speaks for itself. Hamm’s last year earned a best-in-class recognition among three Chicago-area craft brewers in a blind-tasting, and has joined fellow MillerCoors beer Miller High Life as a staple among chefs and craft brewers.

“This type of unsolicited recognition gives us some additional credibility,” Smith says. “It proves to us that we’re not just selling an opening-price-point beer, we’re offering an accessible, differentiated beer that people love.”

This post has been updated to clarify that Hamm's was first brewed in St. Paul, Minnesota.