American beer sales have followed a downward trend in recent years. After reaching a peak of 219 million barrels in 2008, total U.S. shipments have declined to just 211.7 million barrels in 2013. Yet, the beer industry is by no means dying. While some beer brands have faltered, others have found tremendous success.
Although some of America’s top brewers own some faltering brands, they also own some of the fastest growing ones. Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD), for example, produces Bud Ice, Michelob Ultra, and Stella Artois, all of which shipped considerably more barrels last year than they did in 2008. According to data provided by Beer Marketer’s Insights, American barrel shipments of eight major brands increased by more than 20% between 2008 and 2013. Dos Equis led the beer industry, shipping 116.6% more barrels in 2013 compared to 2008. Modelo Especial, which had the second highest growth rate of barrels shipped over that period, led the industry in nominal terms, shipping nearly 2 million more barrels last year compared to 2008.
According to Eric Shepard, executive editor at Beer Marketer’s Insights, these beers do not share any single explanatory factor. Advertising, for example, is a major component in the success of a brand. However, just as “a lot of the most heavily advertised brands are at the bottom,” Shepard said, brands with little to no advertising are at the among the fastest growers.
As Shepherd explained, some customers have been moving to wine and spirits, while others have been switching to imported beer, particularly Mexican imports. Shipments of Mexican brands Dos Equis and Modelo Especial more than doubled in the five years through 2013. Modelo Especial in particular reflects the growing “power of the Hispanic market,” Shepard said, as it has run little to no english-language advertising.
Craft beers have largely bucked the overall downtrend in beer sales. From 2008 to 2013, shipments of craft beer rose by 80.1% to a total of more than 16 million barrels, or 7.6% of the U.S. beer market. While the craft beer category now outsells Budweiser, it remains a relatively niche market. For comparison, the nation’s top-selling brand, Bud Light, shipped 38 million barrels in 2013, accounting for 18% of all beer shipments.
Several of the fastest-growing beers, however, have clearly benefited from their association with craft brewing. Blue Moon, for instance, is marketed as part of MillerCoors’ craft beer category. In addition, “Blue Moon is riding the wave of American consumers seeking more flavorful beers,” Shepard said.
To identify the eight fastest growing beer brands, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed figures provided by Beer Marketer’s Insights for all brands with more than 1 million barrels shipped in 2008. All of these eight brands reported a 20% or more increase in shipments in the five years through 2013.
These are the fastest growing beer brands in America.
8. Michelob Ultra
> Sales growth (2008-2013): 21.5%
> Brewer: Anheuser-Busch Inbev
> Barrels shipped (2013): 4,100,000
Michelob Ultra shipments increased 21.5% between 2008 and last year, from 3.37 million barrels in 2008 to 4.10 million in 2013, the eighth largest increase. The Canadian light beer is advertised as low carb, low calorie beer, which may have helped boost its popularity. According to Beer Marketer’s Insights, the light beer category accounts for most of America’s top-selling beers, as well as for 35% of total beer sales nationwide. Yet, as Shepherd stated, Michelob Ultra has succeeded where many other premium light brands have suffered. Michelob Ultra had nearly 2% of the market in 2013.
7. Bud Ice
> Sales growth (2008-2013): 26.9%
> Brewer: Anheuser-Busch InBev
> Barrels shipped (2013): 2,125,000
According to Anheuser-Busch, Bud Ice is produced using an “exclusive ice-brewing process” during which the beer’s temperature is taken below freezing. While reviewers on online beer rating site Beer Advocate rated the beer “awful,” it doesn’t seem Bud Ice is intended to compete with the best-tasting beers. Instead, ice beers generally have higher alcohol content and cost less than other varieties. Bud Ice contains 5.5% alcohol, versus Bud Light’s 4.2% alcohol content. Compared to 2008, Anheuser-Busch shipped 450,000 more barrels of Bud Ice last year, an increase of 26.9%.
6. Yuengling Lager
> Sales growth (2008-2013): 34.2%
> Brewer: D.G. Yuengling & Son
> Barrels shipped (2013): 2,180,000
Based in Pennsylvania, Yuengling, which can trace its roots to 1829, touts being America’s oldest brewery. While several of the fastest growing beers in America are produced by much larger foreign-owned brewers, Yuengling remains U.S.-based and was the largest such brewer in the country as of 2012. Yuengling Lager shipments last year were up 34.2% from 2008, and its market share improved to 1.0% from 0.7%. Unlike several other fast-growing brands, Yuengling has succeeded with relatively little advertising. The recent growth was due to a combination of strengths in its home markets, as well as strong results from recent expansion efforts.
> Sales growth (2008-2013): 71.5%
> Brewer: Pabst Brewing Company
> Barrels shipped (2013): 2,710,000
Pabst Blue Ribbon sales have grown dramatically over the last decade, a trend strangely unassociated with any specific effort from the company. Since the brewer has spent much less on advertising than competitors such as Budweiser, Bud Light, and Coors Light, PBR’s ascendance is still largely inexplicable. To add to the confusion, these beers also all have a fairly similar taste. The New York Times suggested in 2003 that PBR’s customer base has grown precisely because of the lack of major marketing support. Regardless of the reason, the brand seems to have captured a coolness factor that sells beer quite well. Between 2008 and last year, PBR shipments grew 71.5%.
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