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Impact Databank: Light Beer Heads Toward 10-Year Low As Other Categories Steal Share

July 3, 2014

As American consumers gear up for the July 4th holiday weekend, they’re less likely to purchase light beer than they have been in many years. Impact Databank reports that since its peak in 2008, the domestic light beer segment has lost 8.3 million barrels in the U.S. market, a decline of 8%, as consumers increasingly turn to more flavorful alternatives such as imports, specialty craft beers, RTDs and ciders.

The overall U.S. beer market in 2013 mirrored the light segment’s downward trend, with total depletions sliding 1.5% to 195 million barrels—not including non-alcoholic beers—according to the Impact Databank. From 2000-2013, the beer category fell about 1.7 million barrels. In that same period, wine grew by 43%, or 99 million cases, and spirits also rose by 43%, or 63 million cases.

In 2013, the domestic light beer segment fell 3.5% to 98.4 million barrels. It’s projected to lose a further 4.9 million barrels through 2015, reaching a 10-year volume low. Meanwhile, wine and spirits are forecast to post modest but steady volume and share growth. Light beer’s share of the U.S. beer market fell to 50.3% in 2013 from 51.4% in 2012. The last time the segment’s market share was below 50% was in 2004. Young male drinkers play a key role for leading light brands, and economic conditions for that demographic have remained challenging since the recession in 2008.

Last year marked the fifth consecutive year of decline for segment leader Bud Light, as it dropped by 3.1% to 37.6 million barrels, with a further loss of 1.5 million barrels expected by 2015. Meanwhile, after eight consecutive years of gains, the U.S. market’s number-two domestic beer brand, Coors Light, slid by 1.5% to 17.8 million barrels last year. This spring, Coors Light added its first-ever seasonal extension, Coors Light Summer Brew, infused with natural citrus flavors.

Miller Lite also lost ground last year, hitting a 13.9% share of the light beer segment—a stark decline from its heyday of 1980, when it held 59% of the light beer segment prior to the introduction of Bud Light the following year. Last year, Miller Lite endured a 5.9% slide to 13.7 million barrels. Seeking to reverse that trend, in December MillerCoors introduced the Original Lite Can retro packaging that mimics Miller Lite’s 1970s design. That pack has since been extended in response to strong consumer demand.

The light beer downturn that began in 2009 saw a brief interruption with 2012’s volume gain of 0.6%. But that upturn was primarily due to the launch of super-premium Bud Light Platinum, which exceeded 1.7 million barrels in that year. Last year, Bud Light Platinum suffered a 19% slide, and the super-premium light beer sector fell by nearly 700,000 barrels.

In the relatively healthy import segment, which achieved aggregate growth of 2% in 2013 to 29 million barrels, Corona Light grew 2.9% to about 1 million barrels, while Heineken USA’s sub-premium Tecate Light earned Impact “Hot Brand” honors with 16% growth to 167,000 barrels.

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