The last few years have not been kind to macro light beer in the U.S. Although multinational beer conglomerates such as AB InBev continue to push their brews into new markets on an international level, the “homefront” of formerly U.S.-owned companies such as Anheuser Busch has presented a much tougher challenge. Facing saturation and an overall shrinking beer market, not to mention the increasing market share of craft beer, “super premium” brands such as Bud Light, Miller Lite and Coors Light have all struggled at times.
New numbers about those struggles, as well as some first-hand quotes, come to us today via an interesting Chicago Tribune story, which interviews people in the distribution business about some of the declining shipments.
All in all, light beer products from AB InBev and MillerCoors have declined by roughly 26 million total barrels of beer since the light beer market peaked around 2008, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights, an industry trade publication. That volume has flowed into a bevy of other markets, from craft beer and imported Mexican beer brands, to wine and spirits. Vince Trunzo, the co-owner of a managing company for 350 liquor stores in the Chicago area, said the following to the Tribune: “They’re getting hit from all over. They’re really taking a lashing.” He went on to estimate that sales of “super premium” light beer brands had been down 4-5 percent per year in his many stores.
According to Nielsen data reported by the Tribune, Coors Light case volume in particular was down 3.4 percent this year through Sept. 30. Bud Light was down even more; 5.7 percent during the same time period. That certainly isn’t the kind of healthy growth that makes shareholders happy.
This doesn’t apply to every brand, of course. MillerCoors brands such as Blue Moon and Coors Banquet are still growing, as is Michelob Ultra Light, whose fitness-conscious, crossfit-esque millennial marketing seems to be working well. But when Miller Lite and Coors Light represent 57% of MillerCoors entire volume, any dropoff in those key brands is almost impossible to recoup elsewhere. The same goes for Anheuser Busch, which has been hurt in recent years by the continued decline of their flagship brand Budweiser (that’s Bud Heavy), not to mention Bud Light. Even though AB InBev has continued to acquire craft breweries such as Goose Island, Wicked Weed and Golden Road, they still represent a very small part of the brewing giant’s overall business, and aren’t likely to move the needle in a big way. According to Beverage Marketing Corp, on-premise sales of domestic light beer are projected to decrease another 1.2 percent this year—and that’s following five previous years of decline.
In the light of these kinds of numbers, it’s also understandable why the craft industry’s overall growth has begun to slow down as well—although it did still grow in 2016. People are simply drinking less beer overall, which is a concern to the entire industry. With thousands more craft breweries still planning to open in the next few years, let’s hope they’re prepared to enter a market that is becoming a whole lot more crowded and challenging.