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2019 Consumer Trends

Total dollar sales over the last 52 weeks rung in at more than $35 billion, up 1.8 percent from the previous year, while total volume sales were down 0.4 percent, again pointing to the fact that people are willing to pay more for quality beer.

The data we’ve examined comes from IRI Worldwide, a market research firm that tracks category-wide sales trends of beer sold in numerous retail outlets and then produces a monthly report of its findings. These findings can be used to provide real-time insight into the ever-changing beer marketplace, both Craft and Macro. They can also help industry participants adapt to the marketplace and help you make more informed choices as a consumer. To save you the spreadsheet trawling, we’ve pieced together the most important changes in beer sales over the year of 2018 and will compare them to the prior year.

Before we dive in to this year’s data, here are a few things to keep in mind – these numbers are on an international scale and may not represent individual brewery or regional sales accurately. The numbers also do not draw a hard line between beer styles within certain categories, which could mask sales trends of smaller brewers. They track sales of packaged beer only and from a few different sources, including convenience stores (think gas stations), a general “food” category (grocery stores, etc.), and a combined multi-outlet and convenience (MULC) store category (a combination of grocery, drug, Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club, dollar stores and military stores, among others). We will focus on the MULC category. While not all-encompassing, it’s a great, well-rounded resource.

Big Styles in Craft
2018 wasn’t a bad year for Craft beer sales, as the segment saw a 3.1 percent increase in dollar sales compared to the previous year.

The IPA is riding high once more, comprising roughly 35 percent of all Craft beer sales. At around $1.5 billion of Craft’s total $4.2 billion share, it is a force to be reckoned with. Within the world of IPAs, the explosion of the “Haze Craze” is to thank, injecting new life into a style that had started to drift into an oblivion of bitterness. These milkshake-style ales have really opened the eyes of both the drinker and brewer to the versatility of the style. The once bitter booze-bombs have now shifted towards thick, fruit smoothie and mimosa-esque styles that will draw in new subsets of drinkers by pushing the conventions of what a beer’s qualities can be.

Now, it’s okay to drink a beer with a mouthfeel as thick as high-pulp orange juice – so, in theory, anyone who likes orange juice and alcohol now has the potential to become a craft beer fan.

Despite the standard of boundary-pushing associated with American Craft, the other real tale of the tape has been a return to subtlety. We are finally seeing the American palate develop to appreciate more refined, historically European styles en masse.

As a result, 2018 has been a good year for lower-ABV, less malty styles. Blonde/Golden Ale has continued its meteoric rise, up another 14 percent from last year, which saw similar growth, and Pale Lagers are up an enormous 41.1 percent from the year prior.

Further, Belgian Ale dollar sales are up nearly 10 percent from the year prior, and Craft Light Beer has jumped by 21 percent.

Unsurprisingly, styles such as Amber Ale, Amber Lager, Strong Ale and Dark Beer are all down double-digits from the year prior. This certainly doesn’t mean these are doomed styles, just that consumer preferences are shifting towards less focus on maltiness, alcohol and bitterness, and more focus on aroma, flavor and drinkability.

2018 has been a good year for lower-ABV, less malty styles. Blonde/Golden Ale is up another 14 percent from last year and Pale Lagers are up an enormous 41.1 percent.

From a cultural perspective, these sales trends could also indicate the changing mindset of the average Craft drinker; it’s less Wild West, frontier-style flavor exploration at the expense of health and functionality and a more natural integration into everyday life. People are opting for a mild, aromatic pale ale on a first date or an agreeable craft light lager that the whole family (of legal drinking age) can enjoy. Thus, you can have your beer and drink it too.

Look for these trends to continue in 2019 and gradually shift into other realms of liquid flavor, while maintaining a lower-ABV mindset. And a few years down the line, look for it all to come full circle once more.

Beer by Category
Overall, beer had a good year. Total beer sales in the past 52 weeks are up nearly two percent, which translates to over $600 million more dollars spent on beer than last year.

In fact, there were only two major categories that did not see an increase in sales, and that is Domestic Premium, which are the flagship brands of Budweiser, MillerCoors and others and Domestic Sub-Premium (Icehouse, Natural Light and associated parties). Domestic Premium dollar sales are down 3.8 percent from last year, which translates to a whopping $500 million, while Domestic Sub-Premium is down 1.3 percent, or around $70 million.

Obviously, Craft has played a large role in the decline in Domestic sales, but the battle for beer market share is very much a battle royale.

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