Drink Magazine

Does This Graph Explain American Beer Interest?

By Bryan Roth @bryandroth

reverse_bell_curve_chart

Here’s the reason I ask this question:

Fastest growing large domestic beer in US over last year? Michelob Ultra Light, up 10.3% to $742M (via @bevnet)

— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) November 11, 2013

I thought hard about that stat, mostly because from 2006 to 2011, Michelob’s main brands were performing really poorly. Both Michelob and Michelob Light had lost the highest percentage of sales among American beer drinkers. Yet here we are and Michelob Ultra (Light) is doing just fine. I know “large” is the qualifying word of that tweet, but sales are sales and that’s a lot.

Which led me to assume a few things about its success:

  • People are buying because of Michelob Ultra Light’s calorie count, or lack thereof (95 calories)
  • People are buying because they’re not worrying as much about taste (obviously)
  • People are buying because the price is right (about $6 to $7 for a six-pack, depending on location)

And when I say “people,” I mean the public at-large. Which is why I’m curious if this is the reverse bell curve for beer drinkers when it comes to three criteria: calories, flavor and/or money. (click to enlarge)

beer_nerd_public_levels_of_commitment

To me, these represent the opposite ends of the beer drinker spectrum. From a mass customer standpoint, craft beer is gaining in sales. However, my guess is that the nerdier a beer fan becomes, (*raises hand*) the more commitment a person has to spending more money for more flavor/experience and calories be damned. At least that’s how it’s been for me.

But that may not be the case with the public at-large.

Over the summer, reports of light beer’s demise were widespread. Sometime between then and now, things started to steady out. Bud Light sales are flat, but Bud Light Platinum continues to grow its market share. Miller Lite sales are down, but Coors Light sales are up. Michelob Ultra, smelling blood in the water (or is that wort?), has launched a whole family of flavored light beers, in addition to a cider. And we know how cider is faring these days with general drinking audiences.

This is not to say a change isn’t happening. My assumption (and hope) is that as the craft segment continues to grow, that reverse bell curve is going to look a little uglier, but in a good way for craft beer:

beer_nerd_bump_commitment

While not all light beer brands have been as lucky as Michelob Ultra, sales of that brew has been growing steadily in recent quarters. As macro beer companies continue to get “crafty” to compete with ever-more craft-centric consumers, I assume light beer sales will continue to fluctuate, but will they grow at all?

I know plenty of beer nerds drink BMC beers from time-to-time, but when looking at broad trends, these graphs kind of makes sense to me – what about you?

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac


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