Beer sales go bust this St. Patrick's Day

A 4% drop in pint orders and higher prices may signal worse luck ahead for brewers, which rely on March to start a seasonal upswing.

By Jason Notte Mar 20, 2013 1:51PM
Credit: © 2011 Staci Kennelly/Flickr/Getty ImagesThe day after Sunday's St. Patrick's Day festivities was one of the few times that America woke up from a hangover and discovered it drank less than it remembered.

In a terrible sign for 2013 beer sales, Nation's Restaurant News and research firm GuestMetrics found that consumers ordered 4% less beer this St. Patrick's Day than they did in 2012. In financial terms, sales were flat from 2012 despite fewer orders, while sales of wine and liquor on St. Patrick's Day jumped 6%. That not only means fewer pints of Diageo's (DEO) Guinness, but it's bad news for Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), MolsonCoors (TAP) and the greater economy as well.

That small drop-off is a big deal for the beer industry, which relies on a bump in March sales to end a winter cold spell and start the buildup to peak summer sales. In the beer world, St. Patrick's Day comes at the end of what is typically a long, dry winter. According to the Brewers Almanac put together by lobbying group The Beer Institute, American beer drinkers go into hibernation around Labor Day and don't really emerge until it's time to buy Memorial Day party packs.

St. Patrick's Day and the NCAA men's basketball tournament are where beer's first green, hoppy shoots of spring first appear. In 2010, for example, Americans hit their peak beer consumption in June, when they knocked back more than 20.1 million barrels. They bought roughly 19.5 million barrels a month until the end of summer, but consumption trickled off every month thereafter. It was down to 15 million barrels each month in January and February of 2011.

By March and St. Patrick's Day, however, that shot up to 19.1 million again before settling back to 17 million in April just before the summer buying season.

Blame the end of the Social Security tax break, blame delayed tax returns, blame a lack of expendable income in general, but don't blame all beer drinkers for the slowdown. When orders are down but sales are flat, that means folks are spending a lot more on beer than they have in the past.

Craft beer made by small and regional brewers grew to more than 5.5% of U.S. beer sales by volume in 2011, but reached 9% of all beer sales by dollar amount, according to the Brewers Association craft beer group. That same year, overall beer shipments in the U.S. dropped 1.4%, according to Beer Marketer's Insights.

The Beer Institute's explanation for this is simple: Beer isn't recession-proof. While well-off drinkers splurged for pricier craft beers and imports, working-class types cut down on their 30 packs of Bud and Coors.

They haven't quite come back, either, as A-B InBev sales estimates for 2012 show a near-flat 0.6% uptick, while MolsonCoors suffered a 1.8% setback. Bud has tried wooing high-end drinkers by bumping up alcohol content in new offerings like Budweiser Black Crown. Miller, meanwhile, is going back to its beer commercial roots to plug its leaking sales.

Each could have used a little luck of the Irish this St. Patrick's Day. Apparently, that wasn't on tap.

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Mar 20, 2013 2:39PM

The holiday fell on a Sunday.  Really reading the market off a drinking holiday when people have to be at work the day after the holiday.  Yeah that's smart.

Mar 20, 2013 4:15PM
I agree with Ed. No one can afford a DUI so I never go out to a bar anymore. Especially St. Paddy's Day. Police are all over like flies on shite. No thanks. If I want to drink I do it at home and stay home. I'm sure here in the police state of N.J, the cops will be allowed to break in my door and arrest me for drinking in my living room soon enough though.
Mar 20, 2013 3:39PM
Another thing they didn't mention. A year ago in my location it was 84 degrees on St. Patricks day. This year it was 33 degrees. The temps were cold all over the country this year as compared to last year. Add that to a Sunday Holiday and you have a drop in sales. Not really hard to figure out unless you're "chicken little" like these guys.
Mar 20, 2013 4:05PM
St. Patrick's Day was on a Sunday.  How did beer sales do the last time it fell on Sunday compared to the prior year?
Mar 20, 2013 4:14PM
We will be confined to our living rooms when the govt gets finished with us.
Mar 20, 2013 3:53PM

DUI is what makes people drink less people.

cops are out with a hunger and were not to let them have afield day with us

Mar 20, 2013 5:00PM
The big beer brewing companies started getting greedy and raising the prices significantly about the time the economy tanked.  I hope they all go broke.  Think I'll start brewing my own.
Mar 20, 2013 2:51PM
The prices on a case of beer has sky rocketed.If its not on sale at a good price I don't buy,they can keep there over priced beer and I will drink drink wine.
Mar 20, 2013 5:47PM
Taxes, taxes and more taxes.  In IL the tax on beer is 10%.  Combine that with $4 per gallon gas to get the beer and high prices at bars and you get my solution: Stay home and drink "cheap beer". 
Mar 20, 2013 3:49PM
The "beer insititute" might have been right that we drink less beer in the winter back when all beers were sold in six-pack cans, yellow in color, and tasted like piss.  Me, I probably drink more beer in the winter since that's when dark ales (my beers of choice) are their best and most readily available.
Mar 20, 2013 5:41PM
It's not that we quit drinking during the winter, it's we find better, full bodied beers with something Bud, Miller and Coors don't have....flavor!  In the winter it's Porters and Stouts, in Spring, give me a good Dopple, as summer approaches, it's a cold wheat beer.  There's always the needed hop fix through the year with a good Pale Ale or IPA.  Just because the "big boys" are whining, the micro-brews are hopping....literally! 
Mar 20, 2013 5:32PM
I would really like to be able to buy my favorite beers in the mini  kegs (5L size)  that it seems to only be available for either Heineken or Honey Nut Brown Ale. Come on guys, how about some other varieties? That would increase sales from my household. I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants this.
Mar 20, 2013 3:47PM

The brewers now charge a lot more, but sell a little less. Their net earnings are still more than if they had sold greater volume of product for less money. Don't forget some of the retailers who will continuously add an extra nickel if their cost increases by only one cent.


Then there is "Tax man". He keeps getting more and more of our money, for doing less and less. His claim to fame is these are "Sin Taxes" which no one formally protests.


I like certain micro brews like Flying Dog, from Frederick, MD. A six pack of one variety at Martins/Giant Supermarket runs $10 to $11.. Wal-Mart sells the same item for $8+.

Mar 20, 2013 4:10PM
Well first of all if I drink anymore my liver will pitch a fit I already go thru almost 4 18packs a week. Secondly as mentioned below it wasn't exactly feeling like spring was in a couple of days. I mean I just finished snow blowing for the 2nd time this week.
Mar 20, 2013 5:23PM
Nothing to report here.  March 2012 was the warmest on record for the United States. This year was much colder.  But leave it to a market analyst to forget the most important (and obvious) market factor - the
Mar 20, 2013 2:22PM
My blood sugar is up and I had to quit! ;-(
Mar 20, 2013 3:58PM
In my area, The holiday was spread out over two weekends. Parades and parties the weekend before St. Patricks day and very little actually going on on the holiday itself.
Mar 20, 2013 4:22PM
Guess what? I love beer. But it's terribly fattening and too much beer makes me grumpy. I can drink wine without the carbs and get a good mellow buzz. Beer sales are on the decline because people are sick of how fat it's making them.
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