Light beer, long the brunt of jokes, has taken over. It seems that the trend toward healthier eating and drinking has extended to the beverages Americans consume at happy hour and while watching the big game. And while demand for better-for-you food and beverage options may explain why light beers are having a moment, there may be a bigger story at play. The new rankings of Coors Lite and Miller Lite come as both light and regular beer sales have seen steady declines in popularity.
Light beers have become the most popular lagers despite the fact that the premium light business slipped in the U.S. by about 10 million barrels of beer during the past five years. Bud Light sales fell by 5.7% over the first nine months of 2017. Coors Light and Miller Lite also declined.
Budweiser slipping out of its third place positioning shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Sales of the “great American lager” have been falling for several years as consumers try less expensive brands. Overall, beer sales have declined as consumers experiment with craft beers, where sales continue to grow.
When buying drinks, consumers may be concerned about getting as many bottles or cans for their money, but some social settings may encourage purchasing decisions that aren’t based on price. According to Anheuser-Busch’s own research, about a quarter of beer drinkers like to experiment with the different tastes of regional, international and craft beers.
Even as MillerCoors chief executive Gavin Hattersley talked about Miller Lite’s new position in a Milwaukee Business Journal story, he knew the position was tenuous. The spot for the top three beers is no longer a battle among the beer titans. Consumers want more options. Legacy beer makers have been making rounds at craft breweries in search of beers that will help them hedge losses from their signature brands. AB InBev’s U.S. subsidiary Anheuser-Busch, Constellation Brands and Molson Coors have all acquired craft brewers during the last few years.