Light Boost to Beer

Despite tough economic times, sales of beer and wine remain constant even though many consumers continue to “trade down the box,” according to Dan Roane, category manager of alcoholic beverages for Circle K’s Southeastern stores.

“The below premium beer segment is doing much better than it has in years,” Roane said. “We actually are seeing growth there now.”

Benj Steinman, an analyst with Beer Marketer’s Insights, reported that light beers are half the industry now, marking a major shift in sales trends. “I think it’s really a matter of light beers being lower in calories and alcohol and less filling,” Steinman said. “If you want to drink more than one beer, it makes sense as a way to consume even for the young men who comprise a significant number of c-store consumers.”

Overall, The Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo., said small independent craft brewers are rapidly gaining market share courtesy of another emerging trend—a consumer shift toward full flavor beer from microbreweries.

“2008 was an historic year for beer with the large brewers consolidating and imports losing share, while the top 10 selling beer brands dropped in sales,” said Paul Gatza, director of The Brewers Association. “At the same time, small independent craft brewers continued to gain share and attention.”

From 2007 to 2008, estimated sales by craft brewers were up 5.8% by volume and 10.5% in dollars. More than 1 million new barrels of beer were sold in 2008, and close to half of those barrels were beer from craft brewers.

Microbrew drinkers, Roane observed, are much like wine drinkers, who tend to sample different offerings rather than developing loyalty to a particular wine grape or varietal. “When you get into the premium business, you find that the Bud Light, Miller Light or Coors Light drinker will drink the same beer every day,” Roane said.

Wine and Dine
Along those lines, retailers that sell wine have seen a solid uptick in sales. According to Nielsen data, table wine, the dominant wine segment, grew at 4.4% on a dollar basis in 2008. Total table wine sales represent $9.6 billion, while three liter premium wine sales represent $110 million.

But while 38% of U.S. households purchase wine during the year, less than 1% of households purchase three liter sizes, indicating significant upward growth potential for retailers.

“In today’s economy, consumers are seeking value without necessarily compromising quality, and this contributes to the premium wine cask success,” said Nielsen vice president of beverage alcohol Danny Brager. “Consumers see premium wine casks as more value for their money, as it holds the equivalent of four standard wine bottles.  In addition, the package stays fresher longer once opened, and offers added environmental benefits.”

Though grocery stores continue to drive wine cask sales, other channels, including convenience stores, are also seeing double digit growth in dollars and case volume, Brager added.


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