Malt liquor is not a large category. In 2016 it comprised just 1.9% of overall beer volume sales, which was down from 2% the year prior. The category totaled 55.055 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2016: a drop off of 4.1%, or 2.375 million, from 2015. Since 2007, when the malt liquor category held a 2.7% share of the market, the category has lost over 23 million cases.
Current consumer tastes do not match up with this style of beer. The malt liquor category has steadily lost attention due, in part, to the increased demand for light beer offerings. Also, as consumer tastes continue to change, recent losses by malt are attributable to the increasing trend of premiumization in the craft and imported beer categories.
The days of Dee Williams pitching Colt 45. Today, celebrities are much more likely to put their image (and investment dollars) behind more premium products, like Cîroc, Crystal Head Vodka, or Moët Hennessy.
Another factor key to the category’s decline is that malt liquor’s main demographic is being actively pursued by the distilled spirits industry. Most notably by brandy/cognac, vodka and tequila products. Additionally, in the past, malt liquor differentiated itself with its high alcohol content. As new products come to market that feature ABV contents equal or higher than that of malt liquor beverages — including product lines such as the Bud Light Rita’s, Redd’s and Mike’s Harder — consumers are swayed by marketing to try these new, boozy products.
Accordingly, the top brands in malt all suffered losses in 2016. The best seller, Steel Reserve from MillerCoors, was down 3.3% from 2015, ending up with 17.398 million cases. The brand has seen flat sales or steady decline for some time now. As has Colt 45, the second best selling, from Pabst Brewing Company. The beer was down 2.7% to 9.465 million cases. Colt 45 is down 17.8% in sales volume since 2011.
Coming in third, King Cobra has lost a whopping 53.61% of volume sales since that same year. In 2016 it shrunk 7.7% to finish with 7.877 million cases. Like King Cobra, Olde English 800 has had its sales slip below 10 million annual cases since 2011. The MillerCoors brand receded 1.8% in volume in 2016 to finish with 7.610 million cases.
Rounding out the top five sellers in the malt category was Mickey’s, also from MillerCoors. The brand posted a -4.5% in 2015 to conclude the year with 4.1 million cases. This continues its results from recent time, which have been similarly on the decline.
Malt beers outside of the top five all turned in similar performances: negative or flat growth. Brands outside of the top sellers performed even worse. They were down 12.1%, reaching 517,000 case sales in 2016, down from 845,000 in 2011.