Briefly, here are a few of the most notable highlights of what the year 2019 can teach us, based on sales data from various sources.
Multiple outlets have cited IWSR data on the growth of hard seltzer—not that anyone needs data to tell them it's exploding, since Bud Light Hard Seltzer is now a thing. In 2018 it accounted for less than 1 percent of alcoholic drinks sold; last year it was 2.6 percent. IWSR estimates that sales could triple by 2023. One borderline-dubious stat from the IWSR report: half of U.S. drinkers have at least one hard seltzer per week. But hey, maybe it's a fad.
Barring some sudden, tidal shift in consumer preference, 2020 will be the year that craft beer in cans outsells bottles, according to Brewers Association Economist Bart Watson, citing IRI scan data. That symbolic moment, when cans officially pull ahead, may happen as early as February. "What the data suggest is that early in 2020 we’ll see the can/bottle lines cross for craft and that they won’t cross back during the year, making 2020 the first year where cans have outsold bottles in distributed craft," Watson says, in an analysis for BA members published earlier this week.
Based on the same data, 16 oz cans are the fastest-growing package size—that jibes with what Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® readers say is their preference—growing by nearly 21 percent last year. However, based on IRI scan data of craft multipacks, they are still a fraction (about 5 percent) compared to 12 oz can (about 35 percent) and 12 oz bottle sales (about 60 percent). On the other hand, those data do not include brewery to-go sales, where—anecdotally, at least—four-packs of 16 oz cans have become a very popular option over the past couple of years. "Those aren’t a huge part of packaged sales," Watson says in his analysis, "but I do think you’d see higher 16-ounce can share (mostly four-packs) if we could capture that brewery sales data."
Lager! (No, really.)
Beer pundits have been predicting—or perhaps just wishing for—the rise of craft lager for many years now. Some data suggest that it may finally be happening (fingers crossed). According to Nielsen, of the 10 biggest-selling categories of craft beer (BA definition), the fastest-growing is pilsner—gaining nearly 24 percent in sales and 32 percent in volume from October 2018 to October 2019. IRI data suggest that "other pale lager," bocks, and pilsners are all on the rise (though amber lager is falling, amid drops in sales of Samuel Adams and Yuengling). However, there is another category growing much faster than lager...
Demand for low-sugar, low-alcohol (and no-sugar, and no-alcohol) drinks continues to rise. Beer is no exception to that trend. Though it still represents a tiny fraction (less than 1 percent) of craft beer sales overall, Nielsen data suggest that low/no-ABV beers gained more than 890 percent in both sales and volume. Among the larger craft breweries, budding success stories include Dogfish Head Slightly Mighty, Oskar Blues One-y, and Firestone Walker Fly Jack. As with hard seltzer, AB InBev is wasting little time in jumping on the trend, announcing four new beers via Goose Island (So-Lo IPA, 98 calories and 3 percent ABV), Four Peaks (Gilt Lifter, 99 calories and 3.4 percent ABV), Breckenridge (Resolution Blueberry Acai Golden Ale, 98 calories and 3.5 percent ABV), and Golden Road (Mango Cart Non-Alcoholic Wheat, below 0.5 percent ABV).
In its predictions for 2020, driven by various sorts of survey data, Nielsen says that "hyper-local will continue to lead the way within beer." The prediction continues: "The continuing popularity of brewpubs and taprooms lead many consumers to order based on what’s local in the neighborhood as opposed to what’s local in the city. This continued enhancement of local will prove a challenge for ambitious craft beer brands who want to develop outside of their geographic heartland." The market has been tightest for the larger regional craft breweries—but not for all of them...
Citing IRI data, the CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective says it was fastest-growing among the top 20 craft brewers in 2019. Its retail scans were up 22 percent in 2019. The company includes the geographically diverse set of Oskar Blues (Colorado), Cigar City (Florida), Wasatch and Squatters (Utah), Deep Ellum (Texas), Perrin (Michigan), and Three Weavers (California). CANarchy cited "relentless innovation, including the company’s foray into the hard seltzer category, flourishing flagship brands, and refreshed packaging." Its biggest seller is Cigar City Jai Alai, whose retail sales grew 41 percent over the previous year. Other regional brands on the rise in sales include Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing, Firestone 805, and New Belgium's Voodoo Ranger IPAs.