America’s Biggest Beer Brands Are Struggling
This year's ranking of large-scale breweries shows a decline as growth continues to come from small brewers.
Yesterday, USA Today published the “Top 31 Beer Brands in America,” an annual list compiled by the site 24/7 Wall St. using domestic shipping volume data from the group Beer Marketer’s Insights. For those who follow the beer industry, the most interesting part of the list (which recaps 2018’s data) is that it reinforces things we already knew: A majority of America’s largest brands (19 out of 31) are losing traction, especially Budweiser. The King of Beers slipped to fourth on this year’s list, officially confirming that America’s top three beers are now all light beers.
Leading the pack, once again, is Bud Light — but the result isn’t quite worth proclaiming “dilly, dilly” over. America’s best-selling beer still managed to ship 3.75 million fewer barrels in the past year, and saw its market share slip from 15.4 percent to 14.3 percent. That’s still a mind-blowing share — in theory, one out of every seven beers is a Bud Light — but going back to 2013, Bud Light has seen its shipments sink by over 20 percent, and a turnaround is nowhere in sight.
However, those numbers are downright rosy compared to Budweiser’s current collapse. Bud moved 2 million fewer barrels in 2018, marking a more than 25 percent drop since 2013. As a result, Coors Light and Miller Lite have moved past the King into the second and third positions, respectively. All three beers have seen their shipments slip in the past five years, but Miller Lite has benefited from seeing the smallest drop of the group: only about 8 percent.
So what brands are growing? The first good news for big beer arrives at the #5 slot. Michelob Ultra moved 1.1 million more barrels last year, leapfrogging Corona as America’s fifth most popular beer. Sales of the low-cal, low-carb brew have more than doubled since 2013 (up 114.6 percent) which explains why so many other beer companies, even in the craft beer world, are trying to model their new offerings on Michelob Ultra’s success.
Rounding out the new top ten are Corona Extra (which saw a small decline of just over 100,000 barrels), Modelo Especial (holding the seven despite moving about a million more barrels), Natural Light, Busch Light, and Busch (which all held steady despite modest sales declines).
In fact, the entire top 26 beers (that’s all last year’s list included) remained relatively stagnant from the year before with the same brews simply jockeying for position. But that stagnancy might have a moral all its own: Though innovation has been driving the smaller craft beer segment, these new ideas haven’t quite cracked the mainstream. For instance, only two of the top 31 beers are ales: the very traditional Guinness stout and the MillerCoors-owned Blue Moon Belgian-Style Wheat Ale — neither of which saw any increase in shipments. Growth in the beer world has become mostly a small brewery game, helping to explain why beer sales overall have been slightly down as of late.