Imported Beers Overcome Trump Talk for Strong Sales in 2016

Imported beers enjoyed boom times in America last year.

The category achieved strong volume performance in 2016, growing 6.7% to 454.150 million 2.25-gallon cases, according to the forthcoming 2017 Beer Handbook from the Beverage Information Group. This continued success helped bump up import’s market share of the overall beer category from 15% in 2015 to 16% in 2016.

No doubt about it: imported beers are on a roll again.

This comes after their downturn not long ago. The category last peaked in 2007, when it reached a 13.8% share of the market with 408.3 million cases. Sales slipped for years after that, before a turnaround during 2014, which began the recent string of consecutive years with positive sales gains.

Still, things looked rocky for a moment in 2016. The rise of presidential candidate Donald Trump, on the back of nationalist fervor, clouded the future for imports.

Especially those from Mexico. America’s neighbor to the south provides the majority of our top import brands, and also earned the ire of Trump as he successfully sought the White House. After his win, stocks for companies with many Mexican products, like Constellation Brands, faltered for a few months — before recovering just fine.

How come? The answer, it seems, is that Trump is all talk and no action (at least for now) with threats of an import tax on Mexican goods. So long as that remains the case, imported beers should continue their recent trend.

Talks from Trump of an import tax on Mexico have not materialized, or significantly slowed growth for imported beers.

Which is an upward trajectory. It’s high times for beers brewed outside the country. These flavors tap into the U.S. consumer’s taste for variety, craft, premiumization and an appreciation of flavors from ancestral homelands.

The best selling imported brand, Corona Extra, posted a solid 5.5% growth to reach 122.551 million cases in 2016. That made the beer the fifth-highest selling overall in the U.S. last year, trailing only American staples from Budweiser and MillerCoors. This Mexican pale lager from Crown Imports boasted a whopping 27% share of the imported beer market, and has grown 19.4% since 2011.

The second best selling imported beer in 2016, and seventh overall among all beers, also hailed from Mexico and Crown Imports. This red-hot brand, Modelo Especial, continued its rapid ascension in annual sales, with 18.4% growth for 83.317 million cases. It achieved an 18.3% market share in imported and has grown an eye-popping 57.75% since 2011.

Coming in third was Heineken from The Netherlands, the last brand with an imported category market share in double digits (11.8%). This pale lager repeated its recent trend of flat sales growth, though, gaining just 23,000 cases over 2015. (At least Heineken can hang its hat on being the 11th best selling beer in America in 2016.)

Stella Artois fared better in terms of growth, achieving a +14.1% in sales in 2016. The Belgian pilsner has been on a roll lately, growing 50.91% since 2011. This AB InBev-owned brand has effectively depicted itself in American marketing as both vintage and craft. Tapping into two hot trends, it has earned consumer interest.

Rounding out the top five was the Mexican brand Dos Equis, from Heineken. This lager increased a modest 3.3% to 26.271 million cases sold, and has grown 38.71% since 2011. The brand recently retired Jonathan Goldsmith, star of its hugely successful “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign, for a younger actor, Augustin Legrand. Legrand also brought a new sign-off slogan for commercials, switching from “Stay thirsty, my friends” to “Stay thirsty, mis amigos.” The change in language signaled a new pitchman and also tapped into the trend of imported products appealing to Americans for their ties to foreign homelands.

Elsewhere in the top ten brands, Pacifico from Crown Imports (and Mexico) realized a 17.3% sales growth for a total of 7.857 million cases. Tecate Light from Heineken also had an excellent 2016, with 19.5% in gains to 5.964 million cases. The new Modelo Especial Chelada from Crown Imports — a blend of Modelo Especial with flavors of tomato, salt and lime, a traditional Mexican drink — has taken off since its 2013 launch, with 25.9% growth in 2016 for 3.795 million cases.

The rare imported beer among the top brands to slog through a disappointing 2016 was Heineken’s classic Tecate. The brand dipped 8.4%, falling to 13.067 million cases.

Canadian imports Labatt Blue and Labatt Blue Lite remained relatively flat at +0.6% and 0.3%, respectively. Top Japanese import Sapporo was up 2.3% to 3.494 million cases.

What does the future hold for the imported beer category? Considering that political stagnancy has defined the early portion of the Trump administration, it does not appear that anything will slow down this trendy category in the near future.

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 10 Alcohol Trends to Watch in 2017-18

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