Beer growth brands: Cheers identifies the fastest-growing beer brands in the U.S. market

Beer growth brands: Cheers identifies the fastest-growing beer brands in the U.S. market

Richard Brandes

While the beer category has seen consistently modest growth for several years–with consumption increasing incrementally from 2,621 million 2.25-gallon cases in 1996 to 2,825 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2002–total beer consumption decreased 0.2%, to 2,818 million cases, in 2003. According to the Adams Beer Handbook 2004, the slight overall volume decrease included a 0.5% decline in domestic beer and a 2.2% increase in imported beer. As would be expected, these compare unfavorably with 2002 figures, when imported beer gained 6.0% and domestics were up 0.7%. Still, beer sales continued to climb, with total dollar volume increasing by 4.9% in 2003 to approximately $78.1 billion nationwide. This suggests that most brewers are successfully holding the line on pricing, as well as underlining the continued impact of higher-margin malt-based products.


“Low-carb” emerged as the marketing mantra over the past year, with a few product introductions following on the heels of Michelob Ultra’s successful debut as the first so-called “low-carb” brew late in 2002. Labatt’s Rock Green Light and, more recently, Coors’ Aspen Edge, joined the “low-carb” sub-segment. But Miller made the most noise with a hard-hitting ad campaign declaring that its flagship Miller Lite has been a low-carb product all along. And it worked. Sales of Miller Lite climbed in the marketplace in 2003, reversing three straight years of declines. This instigated an equally hard-hitting ad campaign from Anheuser-Busch stating that, in fact, all light beers, including Bud Light, are low in carbs. And so it goes, with Miller and A-B continuing to slug it out over the airwaves.

The “malternative” revolution of the past few years slowed considerably in 2003, with some of the original successful brands taking major hits. For example, Smirnoff Ice, which exploded on the market with more than 20 million cases in 2001 and more than 23 million in 2002, lost about 8 million cases to just over 15 million in 2003. But the brand made up for the loss with the introductions of Smirnoff Ice Triple Black (6 million-plus cases) and Smirnoff Twisted V (1.3 million cases) in 2003.

Overall, though, beer industry trends have maintained the same course for a number of years. The light beer category continues to do the industry’s heavy lifting, comprising more than 47% of all beers consumed in the U.S., led by the seemingly indomitable Bud Light, which continues to increase sales and remains the best-selling beer in the U.S. by far.

Sales of superpremium and micro/specialty beers slowed last year, following a double-digit percentage gain in 2002 (though off a small base). Meanwhile, the premium, popular, malt liquor and ice beer segments continued to see their market shares decline.


Still, as we’ve said here before, while identifying general trends comprises an important element in evaluating the health of an industry, brand equity remains the cornerstone of the beverage industry. Through the economic uncertainty and brewing industry consolidation of the past few years, as well as always-fluctuating consumer tastes, specific brands of beer have grown their business more than others. A melding of resources, creativity, perseverance, the right economic environment and just plain luck often go into creating and developing a successful brand, and still, it remains somewhat of a mystery. Indeed, there are beers in every category and at every price point that, for a variety of reasons, have either fallen behind or outpaced their respective competitors. And although identifying category consumption trends is helpful, actual brand activity is what generates profits. Thus, the rationale behind “Beer Growth Brands,” which uses the latest industry results to highlight those brands that have demonstrated noteworthy increases over the past few years.

There are four categories of Growth Brands and the Fast Track represents the most demanding set of criteria. Domestic beers included in the Fast Track must have exceeded 9 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2003 with double-digit percentage growth over each of the past four years. Imported (and micro/specialty) beers included in the Fast Track met the same criteria, with their sales having exceeded a lower threshold of 1.50 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2003. All Fast Track Brands must have at least a five-year history.

Other brands that have shown significant growth over the past few years, but have not yet been on the market for a full five years, have been designated as Rising Stars.

In addition, in order to highlight traditionally top-selling beers that have consistently grown over the past four years, we’ve created an Established Growth Brands category. Because many of these brands are already operating from huge sales bases, their percentage gains are often modest relative to their overall case volume, even though these brands have had substantial sales increases and are often leaders in their respective segments. As in the Fast Track category, there is a threshold difference between domestic beers and import/craft brews.

Finally, there are brands that we have termed Comeback Brands, which are traced back only three years. This means that a Comeback Brand must have experienced a sales decline in 2002 (compared to 2001) but will have rebounded in 2003. Importantly, the 2003 sales rebound must at least equal (or better) the sales levels in 2001 from which the brand had declined.

Established Growth Brands

Top-selling growth brands that have grown moderately or substantially

over the past four years. Brands must have exceeded 3 million

2.25-gallon cases in 2003.

(000 2.25-Gallon Cases)


Bud Light Anheuser-Busch 395,000 436,000

Natural Light Anheuser-Busch 106,000 110,500

Corona Extra Barton Beers/Gambrinus 65,500 74,000

Busch Light Anheuser-Busch 70,500 72,500

Heineken Heineken USA 47,000 54,000

Keystone Light Coors Brewing 28,920 31,480

Natural Ice Anheuser-Busch 26,000 29,500

Tecate Labatt USA 8,943 11,024

Guinness Stout Diageo-Guinness 9,579 10,035

Amstel Light Heineken USA 6,000 7,100

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Sierra Nevada Brewing 5,264 6,032

Miller High Life Light Miller Brewing 3,800 3,900

Labatt Blue Light Labatt USA 2,301 3,260

Dos Equis Labatt USA 3,988 4,424

Pacifico Barton Beers/Gambrinus 1,791 2,797

Fat Tire Amber Ale New Belgium Brewing 1,695 1,947

2002-2003 1999-2003

BRAND 2001 2002 2003 % CHANGE ACGR *

Bud Light 469,500 505,000 517,000 2.4% 7.0%

Natural Light 113,000 113,500 115,000 1.3% 2.1%

Corona Extra 85,119 91,224 96,105 5.4% 10.1%

Busch Light 75,500 78,300 80,500 2.8% 3.4%

Heineken 56,800 62,400 62,500 0.2% 7.4%

Keystone Light 33,100 35,820 39,800 11.1% 8.3%

Natural Ice 30,900 32,500 33,500 3.1% 6.5%

Tecate 12,019 13,109 13,464 2.7% 10.8%

Guinness Stout 10,684 10,715 10,987 2.5% 3.5%

Amstel Light 8,500 9,770 9,980 2.1% 13.6%

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale 6,626 7,106 7,165 0.8% 8.0%

Miller High Life Light 4,300 4,900 6,200 26.5% 13.0%

Labatt Blue Light 4,160 5,067 5,482 8.2% 24.2%

Dos Equis 4,861 4,997 5,337 6.8% 7.6%

Pacifico 3,323 3,414 3,849 12.7% 21.1%

Fat Tire Amber Ale 2,658 2,979 3,233 8.5% 17.5%

* Annual Compound Growth Rate

Fast Track Brands

Domestic Brands must have exceeded 9 million 2.24-gallon cases in 2003,

and imported brands/microbrews must have exceeded 1.5 million

2.25-gallon cases in 2003, with double-digit growth over each of

the past four years.

(000 2.25-Gallon Cases)


Yuengling Traditional Lager Yuengling Brewery 7,300

Modelo Especial Barton Beers/Gambrinus 4,300

Corona Light Barton Beers/Gambrinus 3,700

Michelob Amber Bock Anheuser-Busch 3,000

Newcastle Brown Ale Scottish & Newcastle Importers 3,089

Stella Artois Labatt USA 68

BRAND 2000 2001 2002 2003 % CHANGE

Yuengling Traditional Lager 9,000 13,860 16,336 18,100 10.8%

Modelo Especial 5,248 6,657 7,759 9,268 19.4%

Corona Light 4,626 5,823 6,979 8,142 16.7%

Michelob Amber Bock 4,000 4,500 5,570 6,300 13.1%

Newcastle Brown Ale 3,475 3,953 4,391 5,093 16.0%

Stella Artois 232 490 981 1,568 59.8%


Yuengling Traditional Lager 25.5%

Modelo Especial 21.2%

Corona Light 21.8%

Michelob Amber Bock 20.4%

Newcastle Brown Ale 13.3%

Stella Artois ++

++ Greater than 100%. * Annual Compound Growth Rate

Rising Stars

Brands less than five full years of age that have exhibited substantial

growth over the past few years.

(000 2.25-Gallon Cases)

BRAND SUPPLIER 2000 2001 2002

Michelob Ultra Anheuser-Busch — — 5,900

Smirnoff Ice Triple Black Diageo-Guinness — — —

Seagram’s Smooth United States Beverage — — —

Bacardi Silver 03 Anheuser-Busch/Bacardi — — —

Smirnoff Twisted V Diageo-Guinness — — —

Bacardi Silver Raz Anheuser-Busch/Bacardi — — —

Rock Green Light Labatt USA — — —

Warsteiner Premium Dunkel Warsteiner Importers 52 72 182



Michelob Ultra 41,000 ++

Smirnoff Ice Triple Black 6,395 —

Seagram’s Smooth 6,000 —

Bacardi Silver 03 2,500 —

Smirnoff Twisted V 1,285 —

Bacardi Silver Raz 1,000 —

Rock Green Light 523 —

Warsteiner Premium Dunkel 208 14.3%

++ Greater than 100%

Comeback Brands

Brands that have rebounded in sales to at least the previous level after

a recent decline.

(000 2.25-Gallon Cases)



Miller Lite Miller Brewing 217,000 214,500 217,000 1.2%

Warsteiner Warsteiner Importers 1,442 1,434 1,499 4.5%

COPYRIGHT 2004 Bev-AL Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group