Memorial Day kicks off prime beer-drinking season, and this year, U.S. adults are expected to buy a whopping 21 million cases (worth $381 million retail) in major supermarkets alone during the two weeks surrounding the holiday, according to the latest category data from The Nielsen Company.
That makes Memorial Day second only to July 4th in terms of the year's biggest suds days. In fact, volume-wise, those two weeks account for fully 5% of total annual beer sales.
More good news for brewers: During the summer as a whole, premium beer (which includes Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Miller Genuine Draft, Coors and Coors Light) accounts for half of all sales.
But might the troubled economy put a damper on this summer's chugging?
Not if year-to-date patterns continue. While overall beer sales were flat three to five years ago, when there was a short-lived shift away from brews and toward wine and spirits, it seems the death of beer was greatly exaggerated. Beer dollar sales have been growing at about 2.5% to 3% for the past few years (they were up by 3.4% for year-end '07), and the pattern has continued thus far in 2008, according to Nick Lake, VP/client service, beverage/alcohol for Nielsen.
(Lake adds that, while beer growth has rebounded, wine and spirits have also continued to grow-meaning, of course, that U.S. adults are drinking more alcoholic beverages, of all kinds, than ever.)
Who's drinking all this beer? Boomers are no shirkers, but Millennials (age 21 to 30) have the edge. The younger crowd spends 47% of their alcoholic budgets on beer, compared to 27% on hard liquor and 26% on wine.
And while premium domestic beers continue to be their dominant choice, Millennials are more adventurous than their elders. They are much more inclined to buy imported and craft (smaller-brewery) brands --a factor of having grown up with a "wider flavor palette" than Boomers, explains Lake. "This started back when they were kids, with the wide variety of juice boxes available to them, and it's continued on as they've aged, with today's wider palette of alcoholic beverages," he says.
The category as a whole has also seen a marked shift toward growth in premium and higher-end brands (including imports and craft brands) over the past few years, notes Lake. Among other patterns, this has led to an increased selection of "seasonal" beers coming from craft brewers.
Traditionally, craft brewers produced just three special, seasonal selections each year, for winter, fall (Oktoberfest season), and summer. Now, these companies are ramping up for summer, offering a number of special seasonal choices that tend to be on the lighter side and infused with spices and fruit flavors, Lake reports.