Beer is America’s most popular beverage year-round, and when the mercury rises, it really comes into its own. Beer owns the summer.
A brewer’s challenge in the warm months is not so much to persuade consumers to drink more beer—that is pretty much of a given. It’s to use promotions and, increasingly, new summer styles to claim market share.
Brewers eye the summertime sales surge, eager to slake the thirst of beach goers, baseball fans, boaters and music buffs. The breweries’ job was once simple: mount a summer promotion that gives you the volume advantage over your competitor. Now, however, beer styles have proliferated, the drinking public craves variety and seasonal beers are increasingly popular. It may no longer be enough to dress a year-round flagship in a special promotion for summer; breweries also think long and hard about introducing special brews for summer drinking only.
Big brewers embrace summer
Both England and Germany have long traditions of mixing beer with a sparkling soda—often referred to as “lemonade,” but closer to an American lemon-lime soda—to create a thirst-quenching, low alcohol beverage. The English version is known as a “shandy,” and can also feature ginger ale or other sodas; the German take is called a “radler,” named after the cyclists it was designed to refresh.
Whatever the origin, these light adult alternatives have inspired both of the major beer companies this year.
MillerCoors is bringing back Coors Light’s summer line extension, now known as Coors Light Citrus Radler.
“This will be available this summer in the same size package as regular Coors Light at the same price, as well as nationally in 16-ounce cans and in 24-ounce cans in select markets,” says MillerCoors Media Relations Manager Cat Corrigan. “Our packaging graphics will have a new brand look that emphasizes the brand’s citrus refreshment.” She promises “lots of sampling and influencer work on behalf of Radler, as well as the full array or marketing support.”
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., the multi-generation heritage brewery that is part of MillerCoors’ Tenth and Blake specialty division, is building on the popularity of its Summer Shandy with the introduction of Grapefruit Shandy. “The grapefruit beer market grew triple digits last year,” notes Corrigan, “and this tart, refreshing shandy will capitalize on that growth.” However, unlike a traditional shandy, this version appears not to be diluted with lemon soda, maintaining a more typical beer strength of 4.2 percent.
At Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Shock Top brand has been based, like Coors’ Blue Moon, on a traditional European wheat beer, the Belgian wit or white beer style. As first introduced, Shock Top, like the original wit style, was brewed with the addition of orange and other citrus peels and coriander. This summer, Shock Top announced the return of Shock Top Lemon Shandy, which stays faithful to the wit template, but emphasizes lemon instead of orange. At 4.2 percent, this is also typical beer strength, so recommended after (not during) a summer afternoon cycling trip.
Meanwhile, Blue Moon, the American beer that first popularized the wit beer for the U.S. mass market, has grafted that style onto the unstoppable craft darling, India pale ale, releasing Blue Moon White IPA in April. The characteristically bitter IPA and the citrusy, herbal wheat-based wit styles may not be natural partners in anything but marketability, but Blue Moon promises “the best of two styles together.”
Cool down with summer imports
Among imported beers, Dos Equis is also capitalizing on the popularity of wheat beers for the summer, having recently introduced Dos Equis Azul, “a blend of signature golden wheat lager and blue agave.” Importer Heineken USA is offering Azul in a mixed Fiesta Pack, together with its other Mexican beers: Dos Equis Lager, Tecate and Sol.
Such variety packs are consistently popular with consumers, offering an easy source of beer choices without the expense of purchasing entire sixpacks. But even variety craves variety: the brand hopes to keep the collection fresh by replacing Azul with Dos Equis Roja, “a distinctive red lager crafted with Mexican malted barley and hops,” later in the season.
To attract consumers’ attention, Dos Equis will unveil its summer Luna Rising promotion, “built around the theme ‘As the moon rises, so do the possibilities!’” The brand promises to give its young target audience what they desire most: “more interesting and memorable summer experiences.”
At Constellation Brands, importer of top-selling import Corona, Michael McGrew, Senior Director of Communications for the Beer Division, points out that “many of our beer brands are inextricably linked to summer,” citing the Corona Extra “Find Your Beach” year-round campaign. “So, we have a number of programs/initiatives aimed at positioning our beer portfolio as the perfect complement to carefree enjoyment during the summer with family and friends, while maximizing growth potential for our distributor and retailer partners during this timeframe,” he says.
In particular, Constellation is pushing the newly redesigned Corona Extra can, as consumers expand their activities to venues where glass is not allowed, such as beaches, golf courses and camp sites. The Victoria brand is also being launched in cans for the first time: special promotions at retail will highlight the cans for both Father’s Day and the Fiestas Patrias set of Mexican patriotic holidays.
In terms of volume, “imported beer” is nearly synonymous with “Mexican beer” in the U.S. market. Logically, a lot of summer promotions emphasize the multicultural nature of their brands.
Tecate will expand its appeal to “bicultural consumers who identify equally with their Mexican and American heritage,” with its “Born Bold advertising campaign, in both Spanish and English versions.” Corona Extra’s bilingual packaging, designed to drive participation in the summer EXTRA promotion, includes in-pack codes and summer-themed prizes. Television campaigns for Modelo Especial emphasize consumers’ Hispanic heritage, values and attitudes. New packaging for Victoria will include collectable Mexican art coasters.
Sponsorships and Partnerships
As always, sport sponsorships rise along with attendance during the summer season, with Corona Extra linked to both the Mexican national soccer team and World Championship Boxing. Tecate continues its association with boxing through its title sponsorship of the Pacquio-Mayweather fight. Pacifico—perhaps echoing its oceanic name—will continue its relationship with the World Surfing League as the official beer sponsor of the U.S. Open of Surfing.
Heineken will launch its inaugural year as the official beer of Major League Soccer, as well as sponsoring popular music festivals, including Coachella and Ultra—all with the promise of “creating legendary experiences for its consumers.”
Also on the concert stage, Corona Extra is sponsoring the upcoming U.S. tour of Latin Grammy winner Juanes, while sibling brand Corona Light eschews the Hispanic connection and throws its promotional weight behind country star Kenny Chesney, while touting its low 99 calories and a redesigned slim-line can at retail.
In contrast, all-digital promotions for Negra Modelo stress the brand’s culinary affinities, through the brand’s continuing partnership with Chicago’s Chef Rick Bayless, visibility on food sites, and participation in food festivals.
Meanwhile, the Newcastle brand, also imported by Heineken USA, is taking its summer offerings in more of a specialty beer direction. “Collaboration beers,” brewed in partnership with two independent breweries, have been a source of innovation and consumer interest among craft drinkers for the best part of a decade. Newcastle recently released Scotch Ale, the first in a series of collaboration editions “created with venerable European breweries.” Scotch Ale has been brewed in cooperation with Edinburgh’s Caledonian Brewery, also owned by Heineken.
Vikings Amber Ale is the second collaboration beer, brewed with Brand Brewery in the Netherlands (also owned by Heineken) to commemorate the third year of the series “Vikings” on the History Channel. Fans hope another Newcastle collaboration is in the works.
Crafty seasonals for summer
The tactics for specialty and craft breweries are different. Seasonal-style rotation has long been part of craft beer’s appeal, so summer specials are an established part of the brewing calendar. Though sought after, these seasonals tend to be regionally restricted in availability. Retailers can capitalize on this appeal, but coordination with breweries on a large scale is limited. Likewise, small size and smaller budgets limit the partnerships and sponsorships with all but the largest of the craft brewers.
Boston Beer, brewer of the Samuel Adams line, can employ some of the marketing approaches of much larger companies. For example, Samuel Adams Beers of Summer variety pack is the only place consumers will find a new brew, Downtime Pilsner, a golden lager with notes of citrus and spice. It gains added complexity from two new hop varieties used for the first time by the brewery in this classic pilsner. It joins Summer Ale—a wheat ale with lemon peel and a hint of pepper from grains of paradise—in its tenth year as a Boston Beer summer release. Rebel Rider IPA and flagship Boston Lager complete the pack, providing a style for everyone.
Boston Beer has also caught the radler wave, returning this season with Porch Rocker, which blends a helles-style lager with “a hand-crafted lemon blend that uses real fruit for a fresh-squeezed lemon taste,” according to brewery founder Jim Koch. Once again, though, the final beverage displays a non-radler strength of 4.5 percent.
In its summer promotions, Boston Beer is partnering with Weber to showcase the versatility of beer with grilled summer fare. Besides suggested pairings of specific beers with foods, “We’re encouraging experimentation and have even worked with Weber to develop recipes for Samuel Adams-soaked wood chips, which impart the flavors of Boston Lager or Summer Ale when used to smoke food on the grill,” Koch says. “Drinkers will actually be able to purchase their own do-it-yourself Samuel Adams soaked wood chip kit on our e-store this summer.”
National-scale promotions are outside the scope of most craft breweries, but some have overcome that obstacle by hosting a series of one-day events across a number of cities. New Belgium Brewing Co. will stage its annual Tour de Fat again in cities across the country with a day devoted to cycling as a sustainable form of transportation. Naturally, this celebration of “all things bicycle” is a logical link to the brewery’s flagship Fat Tire Amber Ale, as well as Skinny Dip, New Belgium’s “figure friendly” lager for summer drinking.
Summer holds the promise of light-hearted fun, lazy days and relaxed entertaining. Beer, in all its variety, is a natural companion. The only question is, ‘which beer to choose?’
Julie Johnson has been writing about craft beer and the beer business for 20 years.