First, the good news: It’s a great time to be a beer drinker, given the staggering array of choices and styles in brands and types. New trends and options are also giving the beer category a new sophistication and respect, from the continued growth in craft brands and creative packaging to interest in beer/food pairings and concepts such as beer flights.
Now the bad news: Total beer consumption continues to fall. According to research by the Beverage Information Group, Cheers’ parent company, overall beer consumption was down 1.3%, from 2.82 billion 2.25-gallon cases in 2010 to 2.79 billion cases in 2011. Domestic beer consumption fell by 1.6%, while imported beer consumption posted a respectable increase of 1.3%.
The beer consumption shortfall is reflected in our Growth Brands. The total number of Growth Brands fell from 29 in 2009 to 28 in 2010 to just 24 for 2011. Perhaps more telling: There were no Comeback Brands—those that have rebounded in sales to at least the previous level after a recent decline—to report this year.
Fast Track Brands
The Fast Track is the most demanding of the Growth Brand categories: Brands need to show double-digit increases in each of the previous four years in order to qualify. Dos Equis has been a fixture in this segment for several years, and 2011 was no different: It 2010, grew by a hefty 15% from 2010 to 2011.
To be considered a Fast Track, domestic brands must have exceeded 9 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2011, and imported brands/microbrews must have exceeded 1.5 million. Dos Equis, acquired by Heineken in 2010, reached 16.1 million cases last year, up from 14 million in 2010 and 11.8 million in 2009.
The Mexican lager’s popularity is credited to the highly successful “Most Interesting Man in the World” ads. The campaign, which launched in 2006 and includes the catchphrase, “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis,” is so popular that if you Google Dos Equis, you’ll find more about the ads than the beer.
While Dos Equis was the lone Fast Track brand in 2011, it has company on the list this year: Dales’ Pale Ale, a craft beer from Oskar Blues Brewing Company in Longmont, Colo. The hearty, hoppy beer was first brewed in the Oskar Blues restaurant in 1998; the company was the first U.S. craft brewer to can its own beer in 2002. Dale’s Pale Ale grew 35.3% from 2010 to 2011, with a compound annual growth rate from 2007 to 2011 of 43.7%.
Established Growth Brands
The Established Growth Brand category allows for recognition of brands that have consistently grown during the past four years, but not at double-digit rates for each year.
In terms of year-over-year growth, Stella Artois led the category. The Belgian brew distributed by Anheuser-Busch InBev posted a 21.8% increase in cases of beer sold from 2010 to 2011. The brand grew at about 20% the previous year as well. Stella reached 14.5 million cases in 2011; Established Growth Brands must have exceeded 3 million 2.25-gallon cases for the year.
Blue Moon also posted respectable growth of 20.6% in 2011, reaching 21.7 million cases. The Belgian-style wheat ale from MillerCoors built on its performance in 2010, when it increased by 30.4%.
Yuengling Traditional Lager more than doubled its growth rate, from 8.0% last year to 16.5% this year, making it the third fastest-growing brand in 2012. The iconic Pennsylvania brand, which is produced by America’s oldest brewery, has been expanding its distribution reach in recent years.
The fourth fastest-growing brand year over year is Modelo Especial, which posted a 14% increase in cases of beer sold from 2010 to 2011. The Mexican pilsner is supplied by Crown Imports. Another Crown brew, Pacifico, makes its debut on the Established Growth Brands list this year. Also a Mexican pilsner-style beer, Pacifico grew 5% to reach 5.5 million cases in 2011.
Shiner Bock, a dark lager from Gambrinus, is the fifth-fastest-growing established beer brand. After growing at about 5% a year for the past two years, Shiner Bock increased 13.0% from 2010 to 2011, to about 5.7 million cases.
Landshark Lager makes its debut on the Established Growth Brands list this year (it had been a Rising Star for the past few years), growing 7.1% from 2010 to 2011. The AB InBev brand’s compound annual growth rate from 2007 to 2011 was a whopping 31.6%.
While the Established Growth Brands list is dominated by imports, crafts and specialty beers, the decidedly downscale Pabst Blue Ribbon reported healthy year-over-year growth of 10.2%, reaching 33.5 million cases. What’s more, Pabst Blue Ribbon’s compound annual growth rate from 2007 to 2011 was 13.3%, an impressive performance for the 168-year-old American brand.
Among the leading Established Growth Brands, Coors Light continued to move up with a 1.0% sales gain, for a total of nearly 254 million cases sold in 2011. (The smaller-volume Coors Banquet hit almost 19.5 million cases, an 0.8% gain). And AB InBev’s calorie-conscious Michelob Ultra grew by a slight 0.5% to a respectable 43.8 million cases.
Three ice beers made the Established Growth Brands list this year. AB InBev’s Natural Ice gained 1.2% in 2011, reaching sales of 42.7 million cases, while the company’s Bud Ice notched 13.4 million cases, a modest 0.8% increase in 2011. MillerCoors’ Keystone Ice grew by 1.9%, to reach sales of 5.4 million cases.
Finally, the well-known craft beer Fat Tire Amber Ale, from New Belgium Brewing, made the list again, reaching sales of more than 5.6 million cases.
The Rising Stars this year reflect the continuing growth of the craft beer movement. The leader, Shock Top, had a serious growth spurt: The Belgian-style wheat ale from AB InBev nearly doubled the number of 2.25-gallon cases sold, from 3 million in 2010 to 5.9 million 2011. Launched in 2007, Shock Top is the most established of all the 2012 Rising Star brands, which must be under five full years of age and have exhibited substantial growth during the past few years.
Sierra Nevada Torpedo, an American IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing, and Crown Imports’ Victoria, a Vienna-style lager that’s actually Mexico’s oldest beer brand, each grew by more than 100% from 2010 to 2011.
New Belgium Brewing had the most Rising Star brands on the list: Ranger IPA, Snow Day (a winter ale) and Somersault (a summer ale). Guinness Black Lager from Diageo-Guinness USA rounds out the list of Rising Star beer brands. The dark lager from the venerable stout maker was introduced last year.