Special Report

America's Fastest Growing Beer Brands

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While beer consumption in the United States fell during the beginning of the recession and again at the end of 2013, it is on the rise again and beer remains the most popular alcoholic beverage in the U.S. Americans may continue to choose beer over other types of alcoholic beverages, although the brand of beer they will choose is less predictable. Consumer preferences regularly change in response to new ad campaigns, price, or for no detectable reason.

Sales of once unassailable beers such as Budweiser and Miller High Life have declined by more than 25% from 2010 through 2015. Meanwhile, sales of such beers as Modelo Especial and Stella Artois — once more marginal brands in the United States — have more than doubled. Based on five-year increases in U.S. sales, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 10 fastest growing beers in America.

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Premium brands such as Michelob Ultra and Coors Banquet, as well as imports, especially from Mexico, dominate the list of beer brands with increasing shipments. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Eric Shepard, executive editor with industry news organization Beer Marketer’s Insights, said, “There has been significant trade up in the U.S. beer industry.” Drinkers have increasingly chosen craft beers, higher-priced premium brands, wine, or spirits over the traditionally dominant mainstream domestic beer brands.

Click here to see America’s fastest growing beer brands.

“Consumers trade up for various reasons, whether it’s something that they perceive as being more prestigious, more flavorful, [or] whatever the image issues may be,” Shepard said.

Despite their popularity, many of the nation’s fastest growing beer brands would be difficult to distinguish from one another in a blind taste test. Beer critics also generally rate these brands very poorly. As a result, advertising in the mainstream beer industry is essential. A beer like Stella Artois can go from being associated with binge-drinkers and abusive alcoholics (as it was in the early 2000s) to a high-end, classy beverage — all from advertising and despite an unchanging formula.

Of the 10 fastest growing beers in America, four are Mexican imports. Shepard noted changing U.S. demographics as one factor that could explain Mexican beers’ massive growth. Hispanics made up 17.3% of the U.S. population in 2014, much more than their 3.5% share in 1960.

To identify the 10 fastest growing beer brands in America, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed shipment volumes provided by Beer Marketer’s Insights for all brands with more than 1 million barrels shipped in either 2010 or 2015. For reference, approximately 200 million barrels of beer are shipped to the United States in a given year. There are 31 gallons in a barrel, or 13.8 cases of 24 12-ounce bottles each.

These are America’s fastest growing beer brands.

corona-extra
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hadock/

10. Corona Extra
> Sales change (2010-2015): 17.7%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 8.4 million
> Owner: Constellation Brands, inc.

Corona Extra is one of several fast-growing brands owned by Victor, New York-based Constellation Brands. The majority of the company’s most popular beers are imported from Mexico. According to Shepard, the growing demand for Mexican beers could be a reflection of the growing Hispanic population in the United States as well as successful marketing campaigns. Constellation acquired Modelo’s U.S. beer business, including rights to sell Corona, in 2013, and the company sales have skyrocketed since.

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In the wake of surging demand for Corona Extra and its other beer brands, Constellation has had to scale up its supply operation. In an interview last year with The Wall Street Journal, Constellation President Bill Hackett stated the company’s plans to nearly double the size of its Nava, Mexico brewery.

pabst-blue-ribbon-logo
Source: Wikimedia Commons

9. Pabst Blue Ribbon
> Sales change (2010-2015): 18.2%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 2.6 million
> Owner: Blue Ribbon Intermediate Holdings LLC

In one of the more unlikely success stories, Pabst Blue Ribbon’s rapid growth in recent years happened largely by accident. In fact, sales of the brand steadily declined since the 1970s. Shipments fell to a low of less than 1 million barrels in 2001, below the threshold for consideration on this list. However, a sudden 5.3% sales growth in 2002 left company executives puzzled. Since Pabst had not invested substantially in any advertising, one explanation for the growth was the appeal to young people of precisely the lack of a brand image.

The Metropoulos family, whose investment firm owns shares in numerous brands including Hostess and Bumble Bee Foods, acquired Pabst in 2010.

Corona Light
Source: coronalight-us.com

8. Corona Light
> Sales change (2010-2015): 19.6%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 1.1 million
> Owner: Constellation Brands, inc.

Corona Light is not as popular as Corona Extra, but with shipments up by nearly 20% since 2010, it is growing faster. According to owner and U.S. distributor Constellation Brands, Corona Light is also the best selling imported light beer in the United States.

Because mainstream beers are not only poorly rated by beer critics but are also often difficult to distinguish from one another by taste alone, creating a unique identity through marketing is essential for large beer brands. Growing sales of Corona Light could be due to increased advertising investment. Constellation Brands attributed its $353 million net sales increase in beer sales to increased advertising spending, particularly on its Mexican beer portfolio.

coors-banquet
Source: walmart.com

7. Coors Banquet
> Sales change (2010-2015): 23.1%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 1.6 million
> Owner: Molson Coors Brewing Company

Coors Banquet traces its roots to a brewery in Golden, Colorado in the mid-19th century. Though it is roughly a century and a half old, for the majority of its life, Coors Banquet was only available in a handful of states. The beer only became available nationwide in 1991. Since then it has placed among the most popular beers in America. Last year, Americans drank 1.6 million barrels of Coors Banquet, up from 1.3 million barrels in 2013.

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Coors Banquet is not nearly as popular as its younger, lighter offshoot. Introduced in 1978, Coors Light is the second most popular beer in the U.S. market. Molson Coors shipped 17.1 million barrels of the light beer last year alone.

bud-ice
Source: walmart.com

6. Bud Ice
> Sales change (2010-2015): 28.5%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 2.4 million
> Owner: Anheuser-Busch InBev

Similar to other ice beers, Bud Ice is brought to freezing temperatures during the brewing process, giving it a unique flavor. Bud Ice was introduced in 1994 and was the first ice style beer to be served on draft in the United States.

Today, though it is far from AB InBev’s best selling beer, it is one the company’s fastest growing brands. AB InBev shipped 2.4 million barrels of Bud Ice last year, 28.5% more than five years prior. While brands such as Budweiser and Bud Light ship many times that amount, shipments of these brands have declined considerably in the last half decade. Notably, Bud Ice has a higher alcohol content than other Bud brands. While Budweiser and Bud Light’s ABV are 5.0% and 4.2% respectively, Bud Ice’s ABV is 5.5%.

blue-moon

5. Blue Moon
> Sales change (2010-2015): 53.4%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 2.2 million
> Owner: MillerCoors

While beer consumption in the United States has slowed in recent years, consumption of craft beers — small, independent and traditional brewers — has grown considerably. Marketing itself as an artsy craft beer, Blue Moon shipments have risen dramatically in the last five years. Although it is marketed as a craft brew, the beer is not made at the Blue Moon Brewing Company but at parent company MillerCoors’ breweries in Colorado and North Carolina. A class-action lawsuit filed last year in California accused MillerCoors of false advertising.

Michelob ULTRA
Source: michelobultra.com

4. Michelob Ultra
> Sales change (2010-2015): 54.8%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 5.2 million
> Owner: Anheuser-Busch InBev

Michelob Ultra is bucking the trend of sales decline among major domestic beer brands. While shipments of industry titans beers like Budweiser, Bud Light, and Coors Light have declined dramatically in the last half decade, Michelob Ultra is gaining popularity faster than nearly any other brew. Americans consumed 5.2 million barrels of Michelob Ultra last year, a 54.8% increase from five years prior.

What sets Michelob Ultra apart may be marketing. Introduced to beer drinkers in 2002, Michelob Ultra initially marketed itself as a beer for the diet conscious drinker, containing far fewer carbs than the typical beer. Now the brand’s marketing has shifted focus from the dieter to the fitness fanatic. This year, AB InBev paid between $4.6 million and $5 million for a 30 second Super Bowl spot to run an ad that more closely resembled a sports drink ad than a beer commercial.

dos-equis
Source: dosequis.com

3. Dos Equis
> Sales change (2010-2015): 94.9%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 1.9 million
> Owner: Heineken

Numerous factors contribute to the successes or failures of massively produced beers in the United States, including taste, price, and — especially in the case of Dos Equis — advertising. The company’s successful “The Most Interesting Man in the World” ad campaign certainly starts to explain Dos Equis’ growth. Launched in 2009, the campaign helped increase sales of the Mexican import brew during the recession, a time of declining beer sales and lower spending overall. Heineken, one of the world’s largest beer brewers, is Dos Equis’ parent company. The European brewer’s share price has dipped since the middle of 2016 but otherwise has steadily increased since 2012.

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stella-artois
Source: Wikimedia Commons

2. Stella Artois
> Sales change (2010-2015): 123.7%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 2.1 million
> Owner: Anheuser-Busch InBev

Stella Artois is one of the oldest brands in the world, first appearing in 1336. Today, Stella Artois is the best selling beer imported from Belgium and one of the fastest-growing beers sold in the United States. AB InBev shipped 2.1 million barrels of the brew to U.S. locations last year, well more than double the 2010 shipment volume. As a light lager, Stella Artois is not materially different from many other mass produced beers. In the 2000s, due partially to its relatively high alcohol content and low price, Stella Artois became popular among binge-drinkers and earned the nickname “wife beater.” The brand has reportedly managed to regain its image as a relatively high-end beer.

According to the latest financial report from parent company Anheuser-Busch Inbev, Stella Artois global revenues grew by 12.5% in 2015.

modelo-especial
Source: walmart.com

1. Modelo Especial
> Sales change (2010-2015): 135.3%
> Barrels shipped in 2015: 5.4 million
> Owner: Constellation Brands, inc.

Mexican beer Modelo Especial had a meteoric growth in the last five years. Shepard suggested the growth may be largely due to beer consumption among the growing U.S. Hispanic population. Hispanics made up 17.3% of the population in 2014, much more than their 3.5% share of the population in 1960. Anheuser-Busch InBev, which distributes Modelo outside the U.S. market, controls well over half of the beer market in Mexico. In the United States., the majority of TV ads for Modelo Especial have been in Spanish only.

Constellation Brands announced recently its plans to dial up its advertising of Modelo Especial. As part of the company’s plan, the Mexican import was recently named exclusive import beer sponsor of the Brooklyn Nets.

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