Summer means backyard barbecues, beach parties and peak patio season. And beer’s summer sales rush comes as inflation continues to ease up on consumers’ wallets.
It’s no stretch to say the past few years have undoubtedly altered consumer buying behavior. That's resulted in a paradox of sorts: more consumers are staying home, while at the same time, on-premise sales surging.
Here are four takeaways about consumer behavior from recent data:
THE ON-PREMISE IS BACK
The numbers dispel any doubt about the on-premise’s recovery from the pandemic.
Consumers have largely returned to bars and restaurants, with visits nearly reaching 2019 levels, according to Nielsen CGA. Morning Consult found more than 75% of consumers are comfortable going to a restaurant or cafe.
Not only are consumers returning, they’re spending more. On-premise dollar sales grew 20% in 2022 versus 2021, outpacing the off-premise, which lost 4% of dollar sales, according to Nielsen CGA and Circana data. Every subsegment but hard seltzer is growing dollar and volume sales in the on-premise. Beer, meanwhile, is the largest-growing beverage alcohol segment, up 1.3 points in dollar share in 2022, sourcing largely from wine, according to Nielsen CGA data.
“The on-premise is such a big part of our business. We have three brands in Miller Lite, Coors Light and Blue Moon that do really well, and things like Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy that are massive for us in the summertime,” says Andrew McGuire, chief commercial solutions officer. “We have some really big horses in our stable. The more folks that come back and choose our core beers, that should benefit us overall.”
BUT DON’T SLEEP ON THE ‘HOME PREMISE’
While many consumers return to bars and restaurants, others are choosing to stay at home.
A recent report from e-commerce platform Drizly shows nearly a quarter of legal-age drinkers are planning to drink more at home this year than last, and 26% of consumers are spending more on alcohol to drink at home than outside their homes. Those statistics line up pretty closely to Circana data from April showing fewer consumers going out to eat this spring or planning to do so in the future.
Habits born in the pandemic, influenced by price increases and negative experiences at restaurants and bars have people thinking more about the “home premise,” says Scott Scanlon, executive vice president for beverage alcohol at Circana, in an interview with Beer & Beyond.
“People have become accustomed to dining, drinking and celebrating at home instead of the on-premise, especially the younger generation,” he says. That shift makes Scanlon consider an existential question: “If people have started to acclimate themselves to the at-home experience, what does that mean for the future of beverage alcohol?”
The answer may lie in pandemic-era sales trends, where drinkers flocked to trusted brands, while hard seltzers became a phenomenon.
“Hard seltzers were born in the off-premise,” Scanlon says. “What can we learn from them?”
OPPORTUNITY FOR TRIAL
If fewer drinkers are sampling beverages in bars and restaurants, Scanlon says giving them opportunities to try options in retail is important.
“It could present an opportunity for C-stores, because that channel is made for more of that trial product and individual servings,” he says. Single sales across total beer in convenience are up nearly 3% since 2019, according to Circana data, with clear opportunities in 19.2-ounce cans.
McGuire says another anomaly of inflation is some higher-income drinkers seeking more value in larger packs, while some less-affluent consumers are buying smaller packs that fit their budget.
“There’s a little bit of a bifurcation happening where those with cash in hand are trying to save a buck by buying value and those without much cash are buying smaller packs,” he says.
FOOT ON THE GAS
McGuire says his team is focused on winning the summer sales season with on-premise sampling and working with restaurants and bars to make sure their customers keep coming back.
He’s also looking for opportunities to expand distribution, getting more multipacks in stores and getting more cans in hands.
“We already had an amazing plan for the summer,” he says. “We’re going to stick to it and ramp it up.”