Leinenkugel’s, Hop Valley roar back with on-premise’s return

Summer is in full swing, bars and restaurants are back and drinkers are snapping up beers from two of Molson Coors’ leading craft brands: Leinenkugel’s and Hop Valley.

Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, a staple of summertime soirees for 15 years, is back in a big way. The Chippewa Falls, Wisc. brewery’s workhorse is up 13% in 2021, helped by the return of the on-premise and two new wingmen: Lemon Haze IPA and Session Helles.

And Hop Valley, which made its national debut in April with Bubble Stash IPA and its 12-pack Stash Pack variety pack, is off to a fast start, already rounding up a 1 share of the U.S. craft market with volume up nearly 13% year-to-date, according to distributor sales data.

Following the challenges of 2020, Molson Coors’ U.S. craft beer portfolio is back to growth, underscoring the importance of the on-premise to the segment.

“I always tell people: Believe in beer,” says John Leinenkugel, beer merchant for Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. “We had a tough year in 2020, but with more outdoor occasions, brands like Leinenkugel’s are coming back strong.”

Leinenkugel's has been fueled by draft handles turning back on across the country and drinkers seeking familiar favorites as they return to their favorite watering holes.

“As bars and restaurants continue to reopen throughout the summer, there’s a great opportunity for Summer Shandy,” Leinenkugel says. “When you have a brand the size of Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy and the opportunity that it represents, and it's still growing after 15 years and people still get excited about this brand, you know you're onto something.”

Along with its momentum in the on-premise, Summer Shandy also been helped by sales of 16-ounce cans, he says, illustrating how craft drinkers’ migration to cans continues to have an impact. Meanwhile, Summer Shandy has always thrived when outdoor drinking occasions are aplenty.

And two new additions to its reinvented portfolio, the easy-drinking Session Helles and its first entry into IPA, Lemon Haze IPA, have helped lift the franchise. When those brands are sold alongside Summer Shandy in the off-premise, Summer Shandy receives a 40% lift in sales velocity, Leinenkugel says.

Hop Valley, meanwhile, is flying off the shelves in key markets, ranking as the No. 1 new craft brewer in seven states, including Illinois, Florida and Wisconsin, according to IRI data. It’s the top new craft brand in the Southeast, Northeast and Great Lakes regions, data show, and continues to post solid growth numbers while eclipsing sales of competitors that have long had a visible national footprint.

“Hop Valley is a success story,” says the brewery’s president, Adrian Benkonvich. “We’re seeing immediate results in some major markets.”

The Stash series stands out on shelves with bright packaging, but the addition of Cryo Hops has proven to be selling point for on-premise accounts, too, says Billie Jo Smith, director of marketing for J.J. Taylor Distributing Company of Minnesota.

“We almost doubled our (distribution) target” with Hop Valley on draft, she says, which will help fuel sales in both the on- and off-premise.

Consumers experiencing the beer is Hop Valley's "secret sauce," Benkonvich says. 

“Trial is key to this brand. We’ve always said that,” he says. “That’s why this summer, we’re expanding draft options for Bubble Stash so that we can capitalize on the reopening of on-premise, venues and events all summer. We have a 60% repeat rate — a very powerful weapon, and we must take advantage of that."

The on-premise’s comeback is a welcomed development for beermakers, especially trusted brands, which a Molson Coors analysis found account for nearly half of all current on-premise sales. That’s good news for venerable brands like Summer Shandy, but newcomers like Hop Valley, Lemon Haze IPA and Session Helles have opportunities, too: Nearly half of drinkers aged 21-34 say they’ll prioritize new food and drink when they go out to bars and restaurants.

“Once consumers try it," Smith says of Hop Valley's Stash series, "they will be back for more.”