Budweiser no longer is among the top three best-selling beers in the U.S., according to Beer Marketer’s Insights, as people drink less beer or switch to craft brews, wine or spirits.
Miller Lite has supplanted Budweiser as the No. 3 favorite beer, behind No. 1 Bud Light and No. 2 Coors Light, according to 2017 estimates from the trade publication, which has tracked the industry for more than 40 years.
Budweiser, which gave up the top spot to Bud Light in 2001, holds a 6.2% market share of beer shipped from U.S. breweries to wholesalers for distribution in the U.S., down from 6.6% in 2016.
Coors Light, which took over the No. 2 spot in 2011, saw its share dip to 7.6% from 7.9%. Miller Lite’s share fell, too, but by less, to 6.1% from 6.2%.
When you subtract exports, Miller Lite sold more beer in the U.S., BMI says. “Of course, Bud globally is much larger,” BMI executive editor Eric Shepard says.
Overall beer trends for 2017 suggest people are drinking less beer. Top-seller Bud Light shipped 2 million fewer barrels in 2017, BMI estimates, while Budweiser shipments fell by 975,000 barrels.
People may be spending more for beer, however. Sales rose 1.2% to $34.4 billion, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm that tracks sales at supermarkets and other retail outlets (accounting for about half of total U.S. beer volume).
Craft beer sales, which continue to rise, have made up about half of the volume lost by the big beer brands. Total craft beer sales rose more than 1 million barrels to 25 million barrels total, compared with 10.7 million barrels in 2010, BMI estimates.
But some big craft beer brands, including No. 1 craft beer brewer Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams beers, and No. 2 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., saw sales drop in 2017 by 300,000 and 80,000 barrels, respectively.
“Beer per capita consumption has been dropping for about a decade, (with beer) giving up share to spirits and wine,” Shepard said.
The two brands listed with the biggest increases in shipments in 2017: Michelob Ultra, also made by Anheuser-Busch, which increased shipments by 21% to make it the No. 6 major beer, and No. 8 craft brewery Founders Brewing Co., which increased shipments 34%.
While some beer drinkers switched from Bud Light and one of the other top beers to imports or craft beers, others have switched to spirits and wine, he says. “Millennials are especially promiscuous drinkers, often drinking across all three categories even on the same occasion,” Shepard said.
Overall alcohol consumption in the U.S. has remained stable, so “beer has been losing,” he said.
Others might argue that the big beer brands, Shepard said, “are in a natural life cycle decline.”
Regardless of the decline, Budweiser remains “the leader of the classic lager segment,” said Ricardo Marques, the brand’s vice president of marketing, and “continues to see consistent improvements in brand health and consideration, with consideration being the number one indicator of future sales. Budweiser is in a strong position for the future, and we are very confident in our current plans and the year ahead of us.”
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