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Sexy Data: Just Whose Ass is Craft Beer Kicking?


MSNBC.com recently shared some interesting statistics about which big beer brands have declined most rapidly over the past five years.  These, presumably, are the beers that have suffered the most at the hands of those pesky rebels in the craft beer industry.

1. Michelob: Sales loss (2006-2010): -72 % / Barrels sold (2010): 175,000

Once considered to be the “premium” brew amongst the big boys, Michelob has seen the greatest percentage decline in market share over the past five years.  I guess this makes sense, as people with “premium” tastes now have more and more “premium” offerings that are, you know, actually “premium.”  Plus those damn hipsters and their PBR…if only Michelob could figure out how to be ironic.

2. Michelob Light: Sales loss (2006-2010): -64 % / Barrels sold (2010): 525,000

My guess is that Heineken Light and Becks Light both took a chunk out of the skinnier Michelob.  I’m not sure if there’s a PBR Light, but judging by all the hipsters in their skinny jeans, there’s certainly a market for one!

3. Bud Select: Sales loss (2006-2010): -60 % / Barrels sold (2010): 925,000

Jay-Z helped to launch this 99 calorie offering in 2005, but it’s been in decline ever since. Looks like beer drinkers who are looking for a lighter, more premium version of Bud are “select”ing other offerings. Zing!

4. Milwaukee’s Best: Sales loss (2006-2010): -53 %/ Barrels sold (2010): 925,000

I dunno what happened here.  Maybe that smooth criminal Keith Stone lured away all the college kids with his ironic Joe Dirt persona.  Plus the resurgence of PBR probably didn’t help here either (at least when it was cheap).

5. Old Milwaukee: Sales loss (2006-2010): -52 %/ Barrels sold (2010): 925,000

This beer was once the crown prince of the Pabst family of beers, meant to be their most premium offering.  But who buys a beer that no one sees in advertising and that’s been squeezed off the shelf by Budweiser Select and the like? Apparent about half the amount of people who did so five years ago, that’s who.

6. Miller Genuine Draft: Sales loss (2006-2010): -51 % / Barrels sold (2010): 1.8 million

This unpasteurized version of Miller High Life hit it’s peak in 1992 (who didn’t?), selling 7.2 million barrels.  It sold 1.8 million barrels last year, which doesn’t bode well for its future.  I mean what’s the deal people?  How come you’re not buying it?  It says “Genuine” right there in the name. C’mon guys, if you fell for ShockTop, you can fall for anything!

7. Milwaukee’s Best Light: Sales loss (2006-2010): -34 % / Barrels sold (2010): 1.3 million

See Number 4 above, and just add light to everything.  When beer is a commodity, advertising, in-store signage and display space are everything, and this beer was up against Miller Lite and Bud Light and Bud Select. Nuff said.

8. Budweiser: Sales loss (2006-2010): -30 % / Barrels sold (2010): 18 million

You know times are tough when even the King feels the pain.  Budweiser has seen its sales decline 30% over the past five years, but don’t cry for them just yet.  They still sold 18 million barrels of beer last year, which is probably more than the output of all the craft breweries you can name combined (and doubled).  Still, maybe America’s waking up to the fact that their native son now has a funny Belgian accent.

You can expect these numbers to continue to decline for a while as more and more people discover the earthly delights of craft beer and start spending their money where the value is.  But, just like the Empire after that bad bit of business above Yavin IV, you can expect the King and his cronies to strike back.  This saga ain’t over yet – fight on rebel brothers!

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Categories: Beer, News

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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17 Comments on “Sexy Data: Just Whose Ass is Craft Beer Kicking?”

  1. September 20, 2011 at 8:37 am #

    They way your post is written leads us to believe that people are flocking from these brands to craft, but that’s not really true. They’re flocking to other crappy beer. Bud drinkers are drinking Bud Lite. Mich drinkers, both heavy and lite, are now drinking Ultra. People who like crappy beer like crappy beer.

    I would love to see the sales numbers for Bass, Amstel, etc. and the other alternatives I listed above. I think the msnbc article mentions the switch to lite too, but I haven’t had my coffee yet so I’m too lazy to check….

    • September 20, 2011 at 9:18 am #

      I think that’s partially true, Adam, but “big beer” sales have been slipping the past few years and craft beer has enjoyed year after year of healthy growth, so the migration is occurring.

      Also, I do speculate (as I am also too lazy to run down all the facts) that some of the sales losses shown in the data above are due to folks migrating from one crappy beer to another.

      But overall macro sales are down and I don’t think those folks switched to wine coolers.

      • September 20, 2011 at 10:41 am #

        Totally agree on the slip and migration to craft, but those numbers are a lot smaller than the numbers indicated above. Big beer is slipping less than 10% per year which means giant gains for craft (what is it, like 15-30% gains for craft?). I think the overall slip in big beer is the migration to other beverages like craft beer, wine spirits but these numbers are more indicative of swill jumping…

        • September 21, 2011 at 12:08 pm #

          You’re probably right, but I’ve also seen folks realizing there’s more than Bud out there and making the switch (at least for some occasions).

  2. September 20, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    I knew the sales of Big Bland Beer (the EvSwill Empire brews) have been on a downward arc for several years – and for good reason – but, woah (apologies to Keanu Reeves), those numbers are stunning.

    These brands are suffering for a few reasons but the craft beer IQ of beer drinkers in general (a larger percentage of them anyway) has to be at or near the top of the list. I imagine the current national sales figures are more closely aligned with the historical sales figures for the Portland region which has long been home to a huge craft beer MENSA chapter.

    Bottom line is that these beers are for bottom feeders – brewed to the lowest common denominator of taste and quality and brewed in the absence of “craft.” Good riddance.

    Cheers!
    @TheAlemonger

    • September 20, 2011 at 9:19 am #

      You’ll know things have changed when you see Bud and Miller start to lose facings at the grocery store to craft beers. We don’t sell beer at the grocery stores here in NJ, so I’m not sure if this is happening yet.

  3. September 20, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    The trend I’ve noticed lately is that people aren’t buying only one kind of beer. Usually on weekends at the grocery, I notice folks have two different beers in their cart. It’s usually a sixer of BMC with a craft sixer. Instead of buying a case of Bud Light, they’re actually buying some craft beer split with swill. I think this is where craft beer’s influence has taken a bite out of BMC’s share.

    • September 20, 2011 at 9:20 am #

      That’s exactly what I did for years – a sixer of Bass and then something new. I finally bought a bottle of Chimay on a whim and haven’t looked back…

  4. September 20, 2011 at 9:51 am #

    Its obvious that a large part of the problem in switching those macro-beer drinking types to craft lies in the fact that so many craft beers “taste different”. This is no coincidence as many/most craft-beer brewers/drinkers prefer hoppy ales. If we want to win ’em over we’re going to have to introduce them to craft-brewed Lagers and Pilsners first. Then we can gradually phase them in to those top-fermented ales and stouts that we love so much.

    Another major factor is cost. As long as BB can rely on economy of scale to keep their prices down, cost-conscious people (and lushes) are going to opt for them rather than pay more for a superior product.

    Nevertheless, as your post shows, “The times they are a changin'”

    • September 20, 2011 at 9:55 am #

      Macro beers are getting more expensive, which might push folks closer to the little guys. Plus, as the little guys get bigger, their costs should come down as well. I think there are going to be some craft brewers who figure out how to offer better beer cheaply to cater to the macro drinker.

  5. September 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    While I say good riddance to all of the crap on the list, I think the story is more than just the craft beer vs big boys saga. I think the economy is more of a defining factor than anything else. Like Adam said, crappy beer drinkers like crappy beer, and they are pinching pennies now. Before the market went into the toilet they were more inclined to buy a case when they went to the store and now they’re just buying a twelve pack and making it last. This is just a hypotheses, and I know it’s not the whole story. I would hope that they are being enticed by the craft beer goddess and putting money in the coffers of people who really care about what they brew.

    • September 21, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

      I’d be interested to see which macro brands are growing. Beyond craft beer, it’d be interesting to figure out where everyone’s wandering off to.

  6. September 21, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    I mentioned this over on a Brewforia FB post covering the same article, but I think what some are also missing here is that all of the beers above are tired brands. They are you’re dad’s beer. I think all of the reasons Jim and others have mentioned above are completely valid and all part of macro beer decline picture. But another part of this decline, as it relates to the beers above, is that people after a while just want something new and different. Craft beer is new, the “ultra” macro beers are new, crazy cocktails are new, artisan spirits are new. All of the macro beer products above, old.

    • September 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

      So these are the Oldsmobiles?

      • September 21, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

        Exactly. They’re probably big in China, but everywhere else, demand is tepid—unless you’re 80.

        I know I always seem to break these things down to marketing (and again I don’t think this is the whole story), but I do think the macro-corpo beer makers are well aware of this. They’re funneling big ad $$$ into their latest and greatest negative-calorie and twisty-neck products while the older products are left to largely fend for themselves with the brand equity they have already built up (and not very well at the moment). Maybe I’m not tuning into the right channels, but when’s the last time you saw/heard an Old Milwaukee or even a Michelob ad in heavy rotation (or any rotation)? Sales of macro beer seem to depend on heavy marketing (it’s certainly not flavor). So, I wasn’t completely surprised to see the sales drop in the beers listed.

        Maybe they’re just letting them flounder until they can pull a PBR or Oly retro move, and the hipsters make them trendy again. ;^)

  7. September 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    The more the big beers slip, the more Big Beer will buy craft brewers. See Goose Island, Boddington etc… The beer might not be selling as well, but MillerCoors and InBev will adjust to what is selling well. I’m conflicted on this. As a homebrewer, if I started a brewery that was bought out by one of the Big Guys, leaving me to retire at 45… I’d totally take it.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. More Sexy Data: The 10 Established Macro(ish) Beer Brands that are Growing | Beer & Whiskey Brothers Blog - September 22, 2011

    […] posted earlier this week about the eight big-brand beers that have seen their sales decline the most over the past five years.  I attributed at least part of the decline of these brands to consumers switching to craft beers, […]

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