Picky Americans are snubbing light beers

Sales of Bud Light and similar brands declined last year as US drinkers cultivate a growing thirst for darker, more flavorful brews.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 21, 2014 1:58PM
Image: Beer (© Corbis)By Venessa Wong, Businessweek

Bud Light may still be America’s bestselling beer -- it has been for more than a decade -- but retail sales of this and other leading lower-calorie lagers such as Bud Light Lime, Miller Lite, and Natural (aka Natty) Light, declined in 2013, according to data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.

Not that this spells the end of light beers, which still make up a significant chunk of the market. 

Even as big brewers push into the craft segment, some big-name labels are still experiencing an uptick. Case sales of Coors Light, which became the No. 2 beer brand in the U.S. in 2012, grew nearly 1.8 percent last year, according to IRI. Michelob Ultra Light sales were also up, although it is an outlier in a fast-declining Michelob franchise.

"There will always be a place for 'Big Lager' as it's more drinkable in the sense that one can have many lagers but only a few dark beers," says Euromonitor International analyst Edward Hsyeh. "The dark beers are heavy in body, so there can only be so much 'share of the stomach' they possess."

Still, big challenges loom: First, Americans' growing thirst for darker, more flavorful brews can't be ignored. Volume sales of lager -- a lighter style of beer -- have fallen every year since 2009 except 2012, according to Euromonitor’s data, though the vast majority of beer consumed in the U.S. is still lager. Sales of pale ales, on the other hand, were up by 13 percent in 2013 alone, and wheat beer grew by 6 percent. 

The shift is reflected in the recent craft beer boom (volume sales grew 13 percent in the first half of 2013) in which India Pale Ale has become popular.

Second, aside from craft, the big brands are seeing competition from imports, too. Modelo Especial volume sales, for example, more than doubled since 2009, according to IRI, and sales of Corona were up 11 percent.

Last, hard ciders and new beer-like varieties such as AB InBev's Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita, which sold more than 7 million cases since launching last year, are stealing market share. AB InBev said in its last earnings report that "the Ritas"(Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita and Bud Light Lime Lime-A-Rita) achieved a combined market share of 0.8 percent in the third quarter of 2013.

AB InBev (BUD), which owns Bud and Natural, declined to comment because it’s in a quiet period ahead of its earnings report next week. MillerCoors, a joint venture between SABMiller and Molson Coors (TAP), reported that sales to retailers fell 2.8 percent in 2013, due to declines in such premium light brands as Miller Lite and in value brands that include Miller High Life and Keystone. 

Molson Coors Chief Financial Officer Gavin Hattersley said at a conference last year that beer drinkers are simply "looking for more flavors, they're looking for more options than ever before."

Meanwhile, sales of Milwaukee's "the beast" Best haven't done any better.

More from Businessweek

Feb 21, 2014 3:14PM

At first, I thought "Great, our beer drinkers, and their palates are growing up!".

But then, the article talks about apple ciders and Straw-ber-ritas and such.


Our beer drinkers are not growing up. They are turning into girls.


Feb 21, 2014 3:10PM
Probably the MAIN reason is taste.  Once you drink REAL beer, you won't go back to those cheap watered-down substitutes that call themselves beer.
Feb 21, 2014 3:05PM
Budwiser is not beer, it is piss in a can or bottle!
Feb 21, 2014 3:26PM
Feb 21, 2014 3:30PM
any american micro brewery like sierra nevada or flying fish and all german beers blow away these  watereddown garbage drinks.
Feb 21, 2014 3:02PM
cant blame them  most light beers suck..   many people think regular bud is too light but try a side by side test between bud and bud light... if you have any liking for the taste of beer you may never drink bud light again
Feb 21, 2014 3:49PM
My tastes have evolved the past several years.  First choice is always something dark and flavorful:  Michelob's Amber Bock, Killian's Irish Red, Leine's Creamy Dark - something like that.  Guinness - on tap - is great too.  Add a side car of Crown Royal or Jameson.  Man, I'm living large!  But, on a hot day, and I need to wash down some trail dust, a big cold mug of Coors Light goes down fast and smooth.  Glad we have options!  And to each, his own!  Drink up and Be Happy!
Feb 21, 2014 3:32PM

The flavor, texture, color and overall drinking experience of a full-bodied, high quality beer far outweighs the marginal difference in the calories of a light beer.

Feb 21, 2014 3:22PM
Feb 21, 2014 3:12PM
because they have zero taste.

I take an IPA or ESB.

Feb 21, 2014 4:30PM
A sample of Bud Light was sent to a lab for analysis; the results: "Your mule is very sick."
Feb 21, 2014 3:41PM
Hard to go back to a light beer after drinking good craft beers.
Feb 21, 2014 3:21PM
Most American drinkers aren't in high school anymore.

That leaves that much more beer for ME!

Feb 21, 2014 3:28PM

the craft beer movement is booming. Go to any store and there are many many choices. I can remember in Missouri, your choices were German or Canadian beers for "good" beer. Thanks goodness times have changed. Still on a hot day floating down a river, you want a watery easy drinking beer cause you drink many many of them.

Feb 21, 2014 3:27PM
My father always said drinking lite beer is like making love in a rowboat, ****ing near water!
Feb 21, 2014 3:46PM
Why are Americans snubbing lite beers? Simple..."lite" beer is not, has never been, and will NEVER be beer. It's just flavored water....and poorly flavored at that.
Same reason to skip diet pop, 2% or 1% milk, or "diet" candy bars. Either you're going to imbibe or you're not. Quit trying to fake it.

Pass me a Guinness!

Feb 21, 2014 3:39PM
Think Bud sucks???  Try telling that to a party animal college kid with a small budget.  Pricy craft beers are great, but there will always be a market for cheap beer.
Feb 21, 2014 3:42PM
some of the drop in sales is due to craft beers and a move away from lighter beers. but the biggest reason for the drop is the increase in young americans drinking spirits. spirit sales are soaring and thats where the largest percentage of beer sales are going and the young crowd may be hard to win back even in the future.
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


StockScouter rates stocks from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best, using a system of advanced mathematics to determine a stock's expected risk and return. Ratings are displayed on a bell curve, meaning there will be fewer ratings of 1 and 10 and far more of 4 through 7.

125 rated 1
264 rated 2
485 rated 3
679 rated 4
640 rated 5
617 rated 6
632 rated 7
493 rated 8
276 rated 9
153 rated 10

Top Picks

TAT&T Inc9



Top Stocks provides analysis about the most noteworthy stocks in the market each day, combining some of the best content from around the MSN Money site and the rest of the Web.

Contributors include professional investors and journalists affiliated with MSN Money.

Follow us on Twitter @topstocksmsn.