beers back

Study signals strong 2007 Super Bowl sales.

The primacy of beer—temporarily lost when Gallup’s2005 poll of alcohol sales and drinking habits showedwine sales ahead of beer for the first time—has beenrestored. The 2006 Gallup poll, released in late July, showedthat brew is back as the top alcoholic beverage in both volume and dollar sales.

Forty-one percent of Americans who drink alcohol arebeer drinkers and beer sales account for nearly 60% of allalcohol served, figures that bode well for increased profits forthe 2007 Super Bowl weekend, when c-store beer sales traditionally peak—and suppliers typically increase the size andquality of the point of sale materials they provide, gesturesuniversally appreciated by c-store owners.

“We value our suppliers’ knowledge of the trends in eachof our markets, and appreciate their honest feedback aboutthe strengths and weaknesses of our stores,” observed HalAdams, vice president of retail merchandising for ValeroEnergy, the San Antonio-based operator with a branded network of more than 5,000 stores. “We take full advantage ofthe thematic point-of-sale materials provided by our suppliersfor the Super Bowl.”

Given that this kind of supplier support is so important,what marketing materials can c-store owners expect beercompanies to provide for the 2007 big brew event?

Interactive Promotions Will Be Big
According to Craig Bosworth, Miller Brewing’s seniorsales director for c-stores, the Super Bowl satisfies twoAmerican desires: watching sports television and small socialgatherings. Not surprisingly, Bosworth reports that MillerLite pre-Super Bowl ads will show consumers racing to thenearest c-store to buy beer and munchies for the big game.

From September 15 through December 31, Miller’s promotion “Score Big Profits This Football Season” will featurethe Miller Lite referee and an opportunity to win a trip to LasVegas to view the game in person. Its “Football Man Law”on premise advertising will allow customers to debate footballand Miller-specific questions and customize a “Men of theSquare Table” membership card.

Anheuser-Busch, which supports 28 of 32 NFL teams, willcontinue its team-specific packaging program and increase itsbrand presence on radio and TV, noted Joe Vonder Haar,AB’s vice president of national retail sales for conveniencestores. The world’s biggest brewer is also co-branding its in-store point-of-sale (POS) materials including fan zones,themed tailgating areas, and a point-of-purchase sweepstakesfor fans to win the “ultimate fan experience.”

“Retailers nationwide will receive Bud Bowl cross-promotion and point-of-sale materials that bring added value to theconsumer,” Vonder Haar said. Though AB recently acquiredRolling Rock, the company has no current plans to advertiseRolling Rock during Super Bowl. “Our marketing for thisiconic American brand will focus on local, niche events andactivities,” he said.

Erik Carlson, mega promotions manager for Coors,believes his company’s beer displays will continue to drivesales. “We have a marketing team dedicated to convertingconsumer insights into engaging in-store promotions for c-stores” Carlson said. “We’re taking advantage of the CoorsLight NFL sponsorship by offering cross-merchandising displays and providing easily executable NFL display layouts.”

Best Ways to Boost BeerSales
The Super Bowl is the biggest beerholiday of the year. Vonder Haar seeshaving ample beer in stock and displaying it well as the keys c-stores need touse to boost sales. “We know that manyconvenience store shoppers will be planning a party for the Super Bowl and wework with the convenience store ownersand the wholesalers to develop creativedisplays and merchandising of the bestselling brands,” he said. “We also workwith wholesalers to ensure they are supplied with plenty of cold beer multipacksin the days leading up to the game.”

Though NFL advertising is proprietary to major premium beer producers,some specialty and high end productsmanage to use the football beer connection as well. Import beer sales rose bymore than 26% as of mid-June, a factnot missed by InBev USA, which sponsors New York’s Buffalo Bills. The company plans programming materials andcross merchandising tie-ins to takeadvantage of the enormous number ofSuper Bowl parties.

“We encourage retailers outside ofour core Labatt Blue markets to takeadvantage of single serves and high-endimported beers, two very profitable beersegments,” said Chris Williams, InBev’svice president of national accounts. “Asingle-serve and a six pack of Beck’s,Bass Pale Ale or Stella Artois is a 7 pointgoal on any scoreboard, and moreimportantly a higher register ring for theaccount.”

Who Gets the Biggest Bangfor the Buck?
In some parts of the country, big in-store promotional bucks spent by bigpremium beer producers benefit specialty beers more than the producers’ ownbrands. Tim Cote, vice president ofmarketing for Plaid Pantries Inc., inBeaverton, Ore., said that the beeradvertisers who buy time during theSuper Bowl increase his company’s beersales overall, but don’t increase sales oftheir own.

In the Northwest, Cote says thatSuper Bowl beer sales depend on whichteams play. Even though most PlaidPantry stores are 175 miles away fromSeattle, when the Seahawks made it tothe Super Bowl last year, the companysaw a dramatic increase in beer sales.

Cote said the 105-store chain usuallyplans its Super Bowl sales strategy twoweeks before the game, waiting untilthey know which teams will be playingand designing a specific marketing strategy from there.

“Our market is unique too,” Cotesaid. “Most of the market here is drivenby imports and craft brewing, and salesfor these go even higher during theSuper Bowl. Higher-end beer outperforms the lower-end of the spectrum.”He adds that most of his company’scustomers seem to buy more specialtyitems when they entertain, and craftbeers are regarded as a treat.

While Plaid Pantry definitely ups itsbeer marketing for the SuperBowl, its stores don’t necessarily tie heavily into the national promotions because the domestic premiumpart of its market is probably no morethan 35% of the company’s overall beersales—a fact that may seem surprising,given that there are markets whereBudweiser alone holds a 60% share.

The beer industry, Cote noted, hasdone a great job of driving home themessage “drink beer while you watchthe Super Bowl.” Unfortunately for thecompanies that pay big bucks to advertise their beer during the big game, thecall to action consumers hear is “drinkbeer,” not necessarily “drink our beer.”

“This part of the country is verydominated by craft brews and imports,brands that can’t take advantage ofSuper Bowl POS promotions,” Cotesaid. “With increasing frequency, ourconsumers ignore the brand they see onTV and buy something more upscale.”

On the other hand, across the country in North Carolina, premium brandadvertising does increase premiumbrand sales for the Super Bowl, according to Dan Roane, category manager ofalcoholic beverages for Circle K’s southeastern stores.

“Our premium sales definitely go upeven though we have very limited in-store POS,” Roane said, “So the marketing materials effectively communicate the best beer offers we have in thattime frame. Are they as effective asradio or TV at driving customers in toour stores?

I’d have to say no.”

Aging Boomers Changing Market

Some marketing gurus view discouraging beer sales of the past 18 months as the inevitable result of an aging population leaving behind the “unsophisticated” tastes of its youth. According
to Brewers’ Association Director Paul Gatza, that’s only part of the reason.

Wine and spirits marketers made a point of reaching out to Boomer consumers, Gatza said—and it took beer marketers a while to recognize that and catch up. “The beer industry generally recognizes that it wasn’t addressing customers’ needs, but changing marketing tactics appear to be changing that,” Gatza noted.

Gatza acknowledged that older consumers move toward buying products they perceive as more sophisticated. He pointed out that when beer consumers—especially women—hit 30, they tend to move away from domestic beers and toward wine. But double-digit increases in imports and craft beer sales clearly demonstrate that many beer drinkers are switching from premium to specialty beers, not switching their beverage of choice.

Gatza added that “pop the cap” laws lifting beer alcohol limits in several Southern states during the past few years were largely fueled by specialty beer lovers—and lifting the alcohol limits allows c-stores to offer more intoxicating options and increases the variety of specialty beers they can sell.

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