The man behind the survey said the research reveals some serious warning signs for the premium light segment.
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"After a long period when these domestic premium light brands dominated the U.S. beer industry, many beer drinkers, particularly younger ones, are finding that they prefer the stronger and more varied tastes of imports and craft beers instead," David Decker, president of Consumer Edge Insight, said in a press release. "This suggests that the recent weakness in share trends for the big premium light flagship brands is likely to continue."
Trouble brewing elsewhere, too
While the Consumer Edge Survey paints a not-so-pretty picture for the premium light beer segment, the annual Consumption Habits poll by Gallup also paints a grim picture for the beer industry.
Beer still takes the top spot as the preferred beverage among Americans who drink alcohol, at 36 percent compared to 35 percent for wine and 23 percent for liquor. But beer's current one-percentage point lead is long way from the 20-point advantage the beverage enjoyed at its height in 1992.
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The Gallup poll also mirrors the concern that younger consumers are turning to other beverages besides beer. Forty-one percent of adults under the age of 30 surveyed said they drink beer most often, down from 71 percent in the early 1990's.
The polls may help tell a story, but the numbers that matter most are the sales figures and recently those haven't been kind to the big brewers either.
In its second-quarter earnings report, Anheuser-Busch reported a decline in U.S. sales volume of 2.8 percent. Still the brewer managed to offset that decline with higher prices (volume measures sales without the impact of currency and price changes). While Bud Light and Budweiser sales lagged, higher-priced brands such as Bud Light Platinum, Budweiser Black Crown and Bud Light Lime Lime-A-Rita did well.
It was a similar story for MillerCoors, the joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing, which reported U.S. domestic sales to retailers were down 4.4 percent in the second quarter.
MillerCoors premium light sales to retailers declined high-single digits in the quarter with Coors Light declining mid-single digits and Miller Lite declining high-single digits.
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Just like Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors is also looking to grow its higher-priced brand portfolio. MillerCoors' above premium portfolio grew double digits in the last quarter driven by the success of new product offerings, including Redd's Apple Ale and Third Shift Amber Lager. Those more recent products are building on the success of established brands like Blue Moon and Leinenkugel's, whose Summer Shandy seasonal grew at a double-digit percentage rate.
Beer's continued bright spot: Craft
Craft beer continues to be a bright spot in the beer category, with the Brewers Association mid-year 2013 numbers showing a 15-percent dollar sales increase and 13-percent volume increase for craft brewers. Those numbers put the craft segment on pace for its fourth consecutive year of double-digit sales and volume growth.
But while craft continues to shine, it still has a long ways to go, making up only 6 percent of the overall beer market.