Light lager back on top as Hard Seltzers decline to 17% in US

April 24, 2023

The biggest online alcohol retailer in the United States offered up some food for thought earlier this month when it released data sales data for the month of March. The numbers showed that the hard seltzer craze might have been short-lived as light lager makes a comeback.

Drizly found that light lagers (20%) overtook hard seltzers (17%) within the beer category, showing a significant shift. While light lagers gained share of two percentage points, hard seltzers lost by the same amount.

BevAlc Insights, the data arm of Drizly, commented: “Light lager share overtook hard seltzer last month – a promising sign considering that hard seltzer has dominated the beer category since the summer of 2019.” Demand for hard seltzers began to level off in late 2021 and 2022, but this share shift could indicate that light lager is making a comeback for this spring and summer.

light lager

Among the top five beer categories there was only one other gainer; American-style lager which went up a percentage point to 7%, just behind IPA at 8%. Pilsner stayed flat at 5% in fifth place. Within the beer category, Brooklyn’s Other Half Brewing Company experienced a strong sales increase.

Beer volumes drop

These shifts come against a 2022 backdrop when overall US beer volume sales were down 3%, while craft brewer volume sales remained on par with 2021, raising small and independent brewers’ share of the US beer market by volume to 13.2%. This was according to statistics from the Brewers Association.

Retail dollar sales of craft beer increased 5%, to $28.4 billion, and now account for 24.6% of the $115 billion US beer market. The primary reasons for the dollar sales increase were price increases and the continued shift back in beer volume to bars and restaurants from packaged sales.

Meanwhile, in the online world, the Drizly data also showed that consumers are looking for new ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail options and flavours, opening up opportunities going into the spring and summer months.

Last month, RTD martini cocktails experienced exceptional year-on-year growth, “another sign that consumers are branching out with their RTD flavours” according to BevAlc Insights. Top sellers included On The Rocks Effen Vodka Espresso Martini, Two Chicks Sparkling Cranberry & Lime Tartini, Batch & Bottle Hendrick’s Gin Martini, Loverboy Espresso Martini, and Bols Espresso Martini.

The Malvasia grape variety also saw breakout growth within the wine category in March with the kosher Bartenura Malvasia driving sales. Within the beer category, the Belgian trappist Dubbel came out on top. The beer capitalised on the last days of winter with its darker, richer style and malty flavour profile.

Saint Patrick’s Day

Given the scale of Saint Patrick’s Day celebrations in the US on March 17, insights for this occasion are crucial to drinks retailers. The build-up to the event often results in an uptick of dry stout and Irish whiskey sales. However this year, more Drizly consumers opted to stick with year-round favourites.

On March 17, dry stout held a 12.8% share of the beer category, compared to 1.9% in 2023 to date. This was down from last year’s 17.5% share, and it was outranked by both light lager and hard seltzer on the day. A similar phenomenon occurred with Irish whiskey, which held 9.2% share of the liquor category – up from 3.4% year-to-date. But last year, it held a share of 11.7% on Saint Patrick’s Day, whereas both vodka and bourbon held higher share this year.

Nütrl, the vodka-based RTD cocktail.

March hotspot: Tulsa in Oklahoma

Geographically, Tulsa in Oklahoma was the fastest-growing market on Drizly last month, just as it was in December 2022. Liquor was the most popular category among purchasers in the city, with a 39% share in March, versus 46% nationwide. Wine followed with 34% (versus 28% nationwide) and beer trailed at 25% but far ahead of the national trend of 14%. The best-selling categories in Tulsa in March were vodka, white wine, red wine, light lager, and hard seltzer.

Across spirits nationally, Nütrl came out on top as the vodka-based RTD cocktail experienced a strong year-on-year sales increase. Nütrl’s best-selling products were several variety packs, a pineapple vodka seltzer, and watermelon vodka seltzer. The Israeli wine brand Yarden experienced strong growth last month amidst Purim and ahead of Passover. The winery’s top seller was their Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Merlot and Pinot Noir.

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