Beer They Are: The 2015 Beer Growth Brand Awards

When it comes to growth in the beer business, it’s still all about the craft. Domestic craft beer was up 15.2% in 2014, according to the Beverage Information and Insights Group, the research unit of Beverage Dynamic’s parent company.

Meanwhile, overall beer volume decreased 0.5% from 2013 to 2014, to 2.8 billion 2.25-gallon cases, and total domestic beer, which has an 85.7% share of the market, fell 1.5% to 2.4 billion cases. Imported beer fared better: Consumption increased 6.3% to 403.8 million 2.25-gallon cases, boosting the category’s share from 13.3% in 2013 to 14.3% this past year.

Brands from Mexico are leading the way: The top Established Growth Brand is Corona Extra, which sold 107.7 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2014. In second place on that list is pilsner-style lager Modelo Especial, with 59.9 million cases sold.

Another Mexican pilsner-style, Pacifico, made the Established Growth Brands list, as did lager-style Tecate Light. The top Fast Track Brand is Heineken USA’s Dos Equis, while the list of Rising Star brands includes Modelo Especial Chelada. Launched in 2013, the ready-to-drink beer beverage is fashioned after the traditional tomato/lime/salt flavored Michelada.

But the serious growth once again came from ciders, which are included in our beer Growth Brands. Overall sales of hard cider increased 63.1% from 2013 to 2014, reaching 27.7 million 2.25-gallon cases.

In fact, several of the brands that posted the most impressive growth rates this year were ciders, including Angry Orchard, Crispin Cider and Stella Artois Cidre (pronounced “see-dra”).

Rising Star Growth Brands

RisingStars-chart

A sure sign of hard cider’s strength, four of the 16 Rising Star brands this year are ciders. Rising Stars are defined as brands under five full years of age that have exhibited substantial growth during the past few years.

In fact, the leading Rising Star Brand this year is Angry Orchard hard cider, launched in 2012 by Boston Beer Co. Also the top-selling cider brand in the U.S., Angry Orchard reached 14.3 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2014—an hefty increase of 81.0% over 2013.

In addition to Angry Orchard, the Rising Star ciders are the Smith & Forge, a cider targeted to men from MillerCoors, as well as Johnny Appleseed and Stella Artois cidre, both from Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Rising Star Redd’s Apple Ale, a golden ale with red apple hints, reached 8.6 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2014. MillerCoors, which launched in Redd’s in 2012, launched a Strawberry version in 2014, which hit 1.5 million cases last year. The company added a Wicked Mango flavor in spring 2015 and at press time had just unveiled a Black Cherry offering.

The Buzz on FMBs

Fermented malt beverages (FMBs) increased 5.5%, driven by Bud Light Lime-a-Ritas, A-B InBev’s three-year-old line of Margarita-flavored drinks. Bud Light Lime Apple-Ahhh-Rita, a limited-time-only seasonal offering, reached 315,000 cases last fall. But the Mango expression of the line is evidently the most popular. It hit 7.5 million 2.25-gallon cases, while the Raz-Ber-Rita reach 5.9 million cases; both flavors were released in spring 2014. The Cran-Brrr-Rita seasonal doubled from 600,000 cases sold in 2013 to 1.9 million in 2014.

The flavored malt beverage category has historically had the highest turnover rate in the industry, says Adam Rogers, manager of information services for the Beverage Information and Insights Group. “Growth is hard to sustain, since companies come out with extensions so quickly that it’s almost hard to distinguish the core brand in the line,” he notes.

When playing in the FMB category, it’s important to have a core brand extension as the base, especially when taking into account the brands that surpassed the test of time, such as Twisted Tea and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. “Those brands continue year-over-year increases because the consumers know where they began,” Rogers says.

Beer in Session

Just five of the Rising Stars were conventional beers. Guinness Blonde American Lager from the makers of Guinness Stout, made its debut this past October. The new beer, made in Latrobe, PA, using American hops and Guinness’ 125-year-old yeast, sold 250,000 cases in 2014.

Miller Fortune, an American golden lager with 6.9% ABV, is targeted to whiskey drinkers. The bourbon-like beer, packaged in a black bottle, was developed to be served in a rocks glass. The MillerCoors brand reached 5 million cases last year.

Two year-round session beers—lighter ABV brews that consumers can typically in enjoy more than one of during a session—made the list again this year: River Ale, launched by Bend, OR-based Deschutes Brewery in 2013, and the three-year-old Founders All Day IPA from Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, MI.

Session IPAs have caught on as a craft drinker’s light beer, thanks to their lower ABV levels, Rogers notes. In addition to brewing a quality product, “Founders also did a good job with packaging and pricing, which made them relevant to the current consumers.”

Fast Track Brands

FastTrack-chart

Dos Equis once again tops the list of Fast Tack beer brands, growing 15.6% and reaching 26 million cases in 2014. Fast Track domestic brands must have exceeded 9 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2014, and imported brands/microbrews must have exceeded 1.5 million cases with double-digit growth over the past four years.

Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy retained its second-place spot on the Fast Track list. Though its year-over-year growth has slowed from 25.1% in 2013 to 16.5% in 2014, the seasonal wheat beer/lemonade reached 6.4 million cases last year, up from 5.4 million in 2013.

Crispin Cider moved over from the Rising Stars to the Fast Track brands. Founded in 2004, Crispin was acquired by MillerCoors in 2012. Ranger IPA, from Fort Collins, CO-based New Belgium Brewing, also transitioned from Rising Star to Fast Track brand. It increased 20.9% in 2014, reaching 1.6 million cases.

Three of the six Fast Track beer brands are IPAs, including Lagunitas. The IPA from Lagunitas Brewing Co. was up 51.3%, reaching 4.4 million cases in 2014. Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo, an American “extra” IPA from Chico, CA-based Sierra Nevada Brewing, was up 10.1% to 2.7 million cases sold.

Because most consumers are familiar with IPAs, the style is often an entry for people to get into craft beer, Rogers says. “What the craft industry does so brilliantly is to keep customers engaged by offering different styles and variations of brands that consumers have become familiar with—especially at the national level.”

Established Growth Brands

Established-chart

It’s not easy to grow for nationwide brands already selling hundreds of millions of cases. That’s why the biggest beer brands, such as Bud Light, with 241.9 million cases sold in 2014, Coors Light (106.1 million cases sold) and Miller Lite (101.7 million cases sold) aren’t represented here this year.

Established Growth brands are top-selling beers that have grown moderately or substantially in the past four years and that exceeded 2 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2014. Corona Extra, the leading Established Growth brand, managed a 5.2% increase to 107.7 million cases sold in 2014

But Modelo Especial, which like Corona is from Constellation Brands, posted the biggest year-over-year increase among the Established Growth brands, at 22.0%. With 59.9 million cases sold in 2014, Modelo surpassed Michelob Ultra this year, which sold 59.3 million cases.

What’s driving the growth of Mexican beer brands? Some of it is the large population of people from Mexico, as well as interest in Mexican culture and cuisine. It’s also hip for a Millennial consumer to choose a Modelo Especial or a Dos Equis because they’re not mainstream, so it differentiates them from others, Rogers says.

Marketing is another important contributing factor, especially in the case of Corona, he adds. “Corona not only did a great job with the ‘Find your beach’ campaign, but their most recent campaign supporting their canned offerings connects with consumers on many levels,” Rogers says.

Rolling Rock, an “extra pale” lager, posted impressive growth of 15.1%, reaching 12.6 million cases in 2014. Launched in 1939 by the Latrobe Brewing Co. in Latrobe, PA, Rolling Rock was acquired by A-B InBev in 2006.

Comeback Kid

Comeback-chart

Another venerable American beer brand, Yuengling, made the Established Growth brands list. The company’s Yuengling Light Lager increased 2.3% to 6.4 million cases in 2014, albeit much slower than previous grow rates of 14.4% for 2013 and 78.0% for 2012. Founded in 1829, D.G. Yuengling & Son is the oldest operating brewing company in the U.S.

The Pottsville, PA-based brewer’s traditional lager is the lone Comeback Brand this year. Comeback Brands have rebounded in sales to at least the previous level after a recent decline. After falling slightly, from about 38 million cases in 2012 to 37.2 million in 2013, sales of Yuengling traditional lager increased 6.4% to 39.5 million cases in 2014.

Melissa Dowling is Editor of Cheers Magazine. Reach her at MDowling@epgmediallc.com

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