It's (finally) Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy season

As soon as shorts-and-sandals weather arrives, sales of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy start their summer-long surge.

While sales data for the weekend won’t be available for two more weeks, a blast of hot air that covered much of the Upper Midwest over Memorial Day weekend likely will come along with a welcomed jolt in sales for Leinenkugel’s shandy franchise in its top market. Which is good news for a brand off to a slower than expected start in 2018, largely because of unseasonably cold weather that blanketed much of the northern part of the United States for most of the spring.

Combined with robust distribution and the debut of a new 24-ounce, single-serve can, the weather warm up in the Midwest and other parts of the northern U.S. gives the Leinenkugel brand team confidence the shandy franchise still can turn in another strong year after setting a record in 2017. Leinenkugel’s sold a record amount — just short of 500,000 barrels — of shandy last year, led by flagship Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy.

“Now that the weather is warming up, sales velocity is coming back to where we want it. We knew once temperatures started rising, shandy would start moving again,” says Homer Dawson, senior marketing manager for Leinenkugel’s. “This brand is really strong, and now that the season is here, we are ready to take advantage. We have to make it count.”

The beer got off to a slow start in 2018, with sales down 16.1 percent on a 17.5 percent decline in volume year-to-date, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience store data through May 19. But those declines have been nearly halved in the most-recent four week period.

The reason is simple: When the weather is cold, drinkers don’t buy as much beer. And Leinenkugel’s shandy franchise, which performs best during summer occasions such as cookouts, is particularly sensitive to temperature changes.

“We know cold weather stretching into April and May is tough for everybody, including our consumers,” Dawson says. “And it’s especially tough for Summer Shandy.”

With the return of warm weather, the brand also is kicking off its summer Leinie Friday program, which encourages drinkers to get off work early on Friday and start their weekend with a Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy with friends at bars and restaurants across the country. The initiative, which continues throughout the summer nationwide, includes sampling events, pricing promotions and games.

It also introduced a 24-ounce Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy can that’s expected to generate incremental sales at convenience stores as well as at summertime festivals and concerts.

In Leinenkugel’s home state of Wisconsin, which this year booked its coldest April on record and suffered through a mid-month snowstorm that dumped more than two feet of snow on northern portions of the state, a slow start “has been very hard for our distributors and retailers,” says Jim Kanter, general manager of Wisconsin for MillerCoors. “But the beautiful thing is the weather changes, and once it does, people get out and buy Leinenkugel’s shandy. I literally hear people say it when it hits 80 degrees: ‘It’s shandy season.’ And that’s something our retailers and on-premise accounts know.”

He was heartened by the 90-degree heat over Memorial Day weekend in Wisconsin, where more than nine in 10 shandies sold are Leinenkugel’s.

“It’s a powerhouse in Wisconsin,” he says. “This is a great beer that pairs perfectly with any occasion. It’s something that’s been part of the fabric for the state for 10 years; it’s pretty much in everyone’s repertoire here.”

In the Chicago metro, which also had a dreadfully long winter and cool spring, “our chain team is fully prepared with programming, along with the tools and resources for a big summer with Leinenkugel’s shandies,” says Matt Dzarnowski, general manager of Illinois for MillerCoors. “This is a top 10 brand in Chicago during the summer, and it’s driven by programming and weather. There’s no long-term risk to be aggressive with shandy as we get into the season.”