While premium light beers dipped slightly, sub-premium light beers have risen to take up the slack. With people watching their budgets more closely, buying the less expensive alternative looks to be a significant and continuing trend in 2010.
Of the top 10 light beer brands, four are sub-premiums, three of which are showing healthy growth. Natural Light, the best-selling sub-premium light brew, rose 3.1 percent in 2009 followed by Busch Light, 5 percent. The third best-selling Keystone Light shot up 12.7 percent, the only contender to reach double-digit growth, according to BIG’s 2010 Handbook Advance.
Buffalo Wild Wings, at some franchise locations, have seen some increased demand and sales for sub premiums like MGD 64, Busch Light and Natural Light, though, according to Patrick Kirk, marketing and brand manager for Buffalo Wild Wings, and they “haven’t really affected the top light brands.”
However, Marc Sachs, corporate beverage director at Uno Chicago Grill, is wary of the general statistics surrounding light beers. While the overall picture looks deceptively good, with sub-premiums and new products balancing declines in the core light beers, he points out that the sub-premiums are most often purchased off-premise, and thus sales of Keystone Light, for example, are “not a factor in restaurants.”
Both Demarco and Kirk echo that sentiment, and find that when people choose to eat out, they do so to treat themselves. As a result, they don’t order sub-premium brands, but instead opt for a favorite premium. As Demarco elaborates, “We try to target the upscale crowd from ages 25 to 35. The beer we carry fits that type of crowd and in our establishment the sub-premiums don’t fit.”
But nostalgia continues to connect with customers, with brands like Pabst Blue Ribbon still able to tap into retro chic appeal. The PBR brand is “still alive and well, a kitschy sell that continues to do well wherever I put it on,” driven by “the novelty and the price,” observes JDV Hotel’s Matt Stuhl.
Regionally, several retro brands are attempting comebacks, with Narragansett Light (which Post 390 has successfully run promotions with) and others, such as Blatz, Hamm’s, Piels and Schlitz offering alternatives to nationally known light beer brands by tapping into their retro chic. In areas where these brands originated or remain strong, they could be ones to watch.