By Michael B. Sauter and Alexander E.M. Hess
After three years of declining sales, shipments of domestically sold beer are up by more than 1% in the United States this year. Sales of light beer and specialty beer, such as Budweiser Light Platinum, Shock Top, and Blue Moon, have been the driving force in the resurgence of U.S. breweries.
While sales of specialty, craft, and small-market beers have improved dramatically, many of the traditional, full-calorie beers that were once the staples of most breweries have fallen behind. In the five years ending in 2011, sales of Budweiser, which was once the top-selling beer in the country for years, have fallen by 7 million barrels. Sales of Michelob are down more than 70%. Based on data provided by Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the nine large — or once-large — beer brands with a five-year decline in sales of 30% or more.
While regular, full-calorie beer was once the mainstream, now light has become the primary beer of choice. Budweiser, once by far the most popular beer, has now fallen to third place in domestic sales, with 17.2 million barrels shipped in 2011, compared to Coors Light’s 17.4 million. The U.S. beer leader is, by a long shot, Bud Light, with 39.15 million barrels sold last year.
Budweiser did not quite make the 30% decline in sales cutoff for our list, but many other traditional brews did. Old Milwaukee, Milwaukee’s Best and Miller Genuine Draft have all lost 50% of their sales since 2006. Michelob shipped 500,000 barrels domestically in 2006, but sold just 140,000 in 2011.
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While light beer has supplanted full-calorie beer in popularity, sales of most leading light brands have been flat over the past several years. In fact, many of the beers on our list with the biggest declines are light beers that either didn’t catch on or faded out of popularity. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS executive editor Eric Shepard explained that it is specialty beers and craft beers — not light beer — that have eaten into sales of traditional full-calorie beer in the past year.
Shepard explained that like most major brand-centered industries, the beer industry has entered a period of aggressively marketing new brands and flavors. “I think that part of the reason that brewers felt we had three down years was primarily the economy… but it was also a lack of innovation, and so now you’re seeing [the beer industry] rev up these things,” he said. “The buzzword for this year was innovation.”
To combat the growing popularity of craft brews, major breweries such as Anheuser-Busch Inbev (NYSE: BUD) and MillerCoors have aggressively marketed their own specialty beer. Bud Light Platinum, which debuted during the Super Bowl, has been very successful, beating most expectations. Shock Top, also produced by Anheuser-Busch, sold 600,000 barrels last year, more than double the previous year’s sales. Another Belgian white beer, Blue Moon, which is sold by MillerCoors, was the 18th-most popular beer sold last year. Shepard expects the focus on nontraditional brews to continue at least through next year. This will likely further reduce sales of the declining brands on our list.
24/7 Wall St. identified the nine beers Americans no longer drink based on INSIGHTS top 50 beer brands with at least 500,000 barrels in sales in either 2006 or 2011 with sales declines of 30% or more over the same period. Sales for flavored malt beverages and craft beers were excluded from the analysis.
These are the nine beers Americans no longer drink:
9. Milwaukee’s Best Light
Sales loss (2006-2011): 35.5%
Barrels sold (2011): 1.2 million
Milwaukee’s Best Light, according to SABMiller, one half of MillerCoors, is a “leading low-calorie beer in the near-premium segment.” Although the brand has been on shelves since 1986, in recent years customers have abandoned the beer. Sales volume dropped by more than a third between 2006 and 2011, versus a decline of just 4% for all top brands. Last year, Milwaukee’s Best Light sold 750,000 barrels, 5.8% less than in 2010. Meanwhile, sales for the top brands fell by just 1.7% during that time.
8. Miller High Life Light
Sales loss (2006-2011): 37.6%
Barrels sold (2011): 390,000
Miller High Life Light was first sold in 1994 as the low-calorie version of Miller High Life, often referred to as “the champagne of beers.” But while customers have continued buying the original Miller High Life — sales declined just 3.6% between 2006 and 2011 — they have deserted the light version — which saw sales decline by more than ten times that number. In 2011, sales fell by 80,000 barrels, or 17%, from 2010.
7. Amstel Light
Sales loss (2006-2011): 47.7%
Barrels sold (2011): 340,000
Debuting in 1980, Amstel Light claims to have been the first imported light beer available in the U.S. The brand, brewed by Heineken, is the only imported beer, as well as the only beer not brewed by Anheuser-Busch InBev or MillerCoors, on this list. Neither of these brewers experienced a sales decline as large as that of Heineken between 2010 and 2011, when U.S. sales volume fell by 3.9%. One cause was Amstel Light sales, which fell by 13.9% — more than any other major Heineken brand.
6. Miller Genuine Draft
Sales loss (2006-2011): 52.3%
Barrels sold (2011): 1.6 million
Miller Genuine Draft, marketed as having “the fresh taste of draft beer in a bottle,” has lost consumers’ attention in recent years. It was one of just six beers that had sales volume fall by half between 2006 and 2011. During this time, the total number of Miller Genuine Draft barrels sold fell by 1.7 million, more than any other beer on this list. Only one other brand bottled by MillerCoors — Miller Lite — had a larger decline in barrels sold over this time span.
5. Old Milwaukee
Sales loss (2006-2011): 52.8%
Brewer: Pabst Brewing Company
Barrels sold (2011): 460,000
Old Milwaukee is brewed by the Pabst Brewing Company, which sold itself to C. Dean Metropoulos — described by The New York Times as “a veteran food executive known for corporate turnarounds” — in 2010. Last year, the Chicago Tribune reported that employees felt Metropoulos’ marketing plans were moving the company away from the philosophies and practices that made it successful. From 2010 to 2011 alone, sales decreased by 12.4% — worse than 80% of top brands.
To see the four other beers Americans no longer drink , visit 24/7 Wall St.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.