- Budweiser lost its position as one of the top three beer brands sold in the U.S. for the first time in decades, according to the Washington Post.
- The paper said Bud Light, the best-selling beer in America since 2001, retains the top position. Coors Light has taken second place, and Miller Lite narrowly beat out Budweiser. It's the first time that the three best-selling beers in America are all light, reduced-calorie domestic lagers.
- Still, all four of America’s best-selling beers posted declining domestic sales in 2017, according to market research firm IRI. The Washington Post reported that, for example, Miller Lite posted a volume decline of 1.6% compared to 5.9% for Budweiser in the U.S.
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.
Even as sales of light domestic beer decline, the trend toward reduced calorie options isn't lost on craft beer makers. They may see the latest rankings as a challenge to produce competing brews that quench consumer demand for both flavor and health. One thing is clear: while light beer ranks at the top of most popular brews, it's position is tenuous at best. Millennials and adventurous beer drinkers looking for a hip brew haven't turned their back on light beer entirely — the health factor is likely preventing a further slide — but it's clear that consumers want more. At least for now, few mainstreams beers, like Mexican brands Corona and Modelo Especial from Constellation Brands, are giving consumers what they want.