No holiday for beer industry, which posts tough Independence Day sales

The Fourth of July holiday, the second-biggest holiday of the year for the beer industry, didn’t provide the boost brewers had hoped for. Beer category volume slipped 1.5 percent for the two-week period covering the holiday, down from the previous 13-week trend of -0.1 percent, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience data through July 7.

So what happened? In short, the continued decline of premium lights, which lost 1.4 percentage points of share in the two-week period, did the most damage. Bud Light volume dipped 6 percent, and the brand ceded 0.8 percentage points of share, per Nielsen. That was followed by Coors Light, which lost 7.7 percent of volume, shedding 0.5 points of share. Miller Lite, which posted a 0.8 percent volume decline over the two weeks, held share. The premium regular segment, which includes brands such as Budweiser and Coors Banquet, lost 0.4 percentage points of share, while the craft (-0.3 points) and economy segments (-0.2 points) also slipped.

To be sure, not everything is doom and gloom. The period in question covers just two weeks, and plenty of things are working, including Mexican imports and innovation, such as hard sparkling water, hard teas and flavors, which we’ll get into below.

The rather grim two-week holiday period in 2018 bumped up against a stronger performance last year, when beer category volume rose 0.8 percent in the two weeks ended July 8, per Nielsen. The category last year outperformed its 13-week trend of -1 percent.

Here are six observations from the broader four-week period leading up to the holiday:

1. The two-week period surrounding the 4th was considerably softer than longer-term sales trends, even when considering just two additional weeks. Over the four-week period ending July 7, beer volume declined just 0.4 percent, and sales dollars actually rose 1.2 percent, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience data. That’s after the industry posted volume growth in seven consecutive four-week periods.

2. What is working? Boiled down, it’s Mexican imports, innovation and Michelob Ultra. To wit, six of the top 10 brands on Nielsen’s Top Growth Brands list are either new, a Mexican import, or both: Corona Premier, Bud Light Orange, White Claw, Corona Familiar, Michelob Ultra Pure Gold and Truly Spiked & Sparkling. Although not on the list because it’s on a smaller base, MillerCoors brand Sol continues to post a bananas sales rate, up 268.3 percent in volume over the four weeks. Another MillerCoors innovation, Arnold Palmer Spiked, picked up 0.1 percentage points of share in the overall beer business and 1.1 percentage points in the flavored malt beverage/alternative/coolers segment.

3. Along the same lines, the above-premium segment continues to grow. The segment once again led the way for beer, up 6 percent in sales dollars and 5.1 percent in volume for the period. Michelob Ultra Light and Modelo Especial did the heavy lifting, with volumes up 15.5 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively. While Corona Extra dipped 5.6 percent and Corona Light fell 10 percent, Corona Premier and Corona Familiar combined to pick up 0.9 percentage points of share for the franchise. Two hard seltzers also landed on the Top 10 Growth Brands list: White Claw, which gained 0.3 percentage points of share, and Truly Spiked & Sparkling, which picked up 0.1 points, per Nielsen. MillerCoors spiked seltzer Henry’s Hard Sparkling Water also is on the rise, posting 32.5 percent volume gains over the four weeks, led by its variety pack, per Nielsen.

4. Who’s up, who’s down? Among the larger brewers to post positive numbers, Boston Beer Co. posted a volume gain of 20.6 percent, Mike’s Hard Beverage Co. rose 17.6 percent, Constellation Brands was up 8.9 percent and Diageo rose 6.2 percent. On the other side of even were Pabst (-6.7 percent), Heineken USA (-6.1 percent), MillerCoors (-4.6 percent) and Anheuser-Busch (-0.7 percent.)

5. Premium lights are hurting, but Miller Lite continues to gain momentum. Dollar sales for the four weeks rose 1.3 percent on a 0.5 percent bump in volume, helping the brand pick up 0.1 percentage points of share in the overall industry and 1 point of share in the premium lights segment, per Nielsen. Other MillerCoors winners include Keystone Light (+6.3 percent in volume), Keystone Ice (+65.7 percent), Steel Reserve Alloy Series (+16.7 percent), Peroni Nastro Azzurro (+17.7 percent), Sol and Arnold Palmer Spiked.

6. Craft continues to soften. Sales dropped 2.1 percent on a 3.2 percent swoon in volume, hurt by losses of each of the top craft brands: Shock Top, Leinenkugel’s Shandy franchise, New Belgium and the Samuel Adams franchise each posted double-digit volume losses, while Sierra Nevada and Blue Moon fell mid single-digits, per Nielsen. The segment’s volume decline was its third in as many weeks.