2010 was a positive year for alcoholic beverages, with the exception of non-craft domestic beers, according to the just-released "Handbook Advance 2011" report from Beverage Information Group (BIG).
Meanwhile, a new Harris Interactive poll on Americans' alcohol consumption habits provides some additional insight. Notably, 29% of those 21 or older -- or three in 10 -- report drinking alcohol at least once per week, including 5% who drink daily and 10% who drink several times per week.
BIG reports that distilled spirits and wine both saw gains last year, continuing to grab share from the overall beer category. The analysts attribute the trends largely to the improving economy and a return to a "trading up" trend that had dominated the industry prior to the recession.
Distilled spirits -- which have seen steady growth over the past two years and 13 consecutive years of at least some growth -- saw sales increase 2.1%, to 192.7 cases, last year. On-premise or restaurant/ bar consumption of distilled spirits also showed a slight uptick, especially in casual dining chains.
The wine category saw consumption grow by 1.7% (up from 0.8% in 2009), to 301.9 million 9-liter cases. Domestic table wines showed a particularly strong performance, outpacing imports.
Wine sales continue to increase in large part because of the wide range of products and growing number of available varietals, notes BIG manager of information services Eric Schmidt. "The Millennial generation continues to be a target for wine marketers as they position their brands as affordable and fun," he points out.
Total beer consumption declined 1.9% to 2.83 billion cases, although imports returned to showing some sales growth, in part because consumers are returning to on-premise consumption, according to the report.
Domestic beer consumption decreased 2.8%, with all categories showing declines except the super-premium, craft and flavored malt beverages category, which continued to see growth due to the craft beer segment.
Craft beers' growing popularity has been well documented, and spotlighted by developments such as Anheuser-Busch InBev's recent announcement that it is acquiring Chicago craft brewer Goose Island for $38.8 million as part of a broader strategy to increase its premium/craft offerings.
The Brewers Association reported that sales volume among small, independent craft brewers rose 11% last year, in contrast to a decline of 1% among total U.S. brewers (although crafts still represent just 4.9% of the overall beer market). MillerCoors' overall sales declined 3%, but its craft and import brands, led by Blue Moon (now the country's largest-selling craft -- at least as defined by MillerCoors), saw double-digit growth, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Who's Drinking What?
On the consumption front, in addition to the stats cited above, the Harris Poll -- conducted online in March -- also found that 20% of adult Americans report drinking alcohol at least once per month, and 15% drink it several times per year. Nearly one-quarter (22%) say they never drink alcohol.
Nearly two in five men (38%), versus 21% of women, report drinking alcohol at least once per week.
And while overall beer sales have slowed, among those who imbibe at least several times per year, beer is the top choice. Nearly two-thirds (63%) report that beer is their choice when they drink, while 54% report drinking domestic wine. In addition, 41% drink vodka. These top three preferences have remained consistent over the past two years, according to Harris.
As for other choices, about one-third (34%) drink rum, 28% tequila, 28% imported wine, and 20% various types of whiskies, such as Irish or Canadian. Further down the list are champagne (17%), cordials and liqueurs (17%), bourbon (15%), gin (14%), scotch (11%), cognac (8%) and brandy/Armagnac (7%).
More men than women drink beer (75% versus 50%), bourbon (23% versus 6%) and scotch (17% versus 4%). More women than men drink domestic wine (63% versus 45%), champagne (23% versus 13%) and foreign wine (31% versus 26%).
Beer comes out on top when people are asked which type of alcoholic beverage they drink most often. One-third of those who drink at least several times a year (34%) say they drink beer most often, versus 22% saying they drink domestic wine most often. One in ten (12%) drink vodka most often, versus 6% for rum and 5% for imported wine. All other alcohol types are below 5%.
Alcoholic beverage consumption declines somewhat with age: 33% of Echo Boomers (21-34), 30% of Gen X/Millennials (35-46) and 29% of Baby Boomers (47-65) report drinking at least once per week, versus 26% of those 66 and older.
Beverage choices clearly vary by age. Beer is the dominant choice among the youngest groups, with 37% of Echo Boomers preferring beer (versus 20% preferring domestic wine), and 41% of Millennials preferring beer (versus 14% preferring wine). The beer preference is somewhat less marked among Boomers, with 33% saying they drink beer most often versus 22% who report drinking domestic wine most often.
However, among those 66 and older, wine is the preference of 36%, versus 22% who prefer beer.