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Hard sodas, flavored beers make a splash


Beer is still America’s No. 1 alcoholic beverage, but retail experts say that U.S. consumers are buying less of it as they turn to other alcohol types, such as hard soda, cider and wine.

(To view the full Category Review, click here.)

According to Mintel, beer continues to enjoy the highest rate of penetration among alcoholic beverage drinkers. However, one quarter of beer drinkers drank less beer in 2015 compared to the previous year. Even craft beer, which had enjoyed double-digit growth in recent years, seems to be reaching a saturation point in terms of popularity among consumers of alcoholic beverages.

According to IRI, overall beer sales (which includes traditional and craft beers) topped $15 billion in the 52-week period ending Oct. 2, an increase of nearly 4% from the previous year. However, much of this growth seems to be coming from the craft beer segment. While traditional beer sales have been flattening, craft beer has been seeing 15% compound annual growth rates for at least the past two years. In fact, the craft share of the beer category nearly doubled from 2010 to 2015 (5.2% to 10%), with three in 10 (30%) beer drinkers consuming “craft-style” beer and one in five (2%) drinking “true-craft” beer. What’s more, during that same period, well over half (54%) of those who increased their beer consumption indicated a better selection of craft varieties as a driving force. Yet with all this growth in the craft beer category, there has been some deceleration. In fact, craft beer sales seem to be slowing in 2016.

“The consensus is that craft beer has slowed down significantly this year,” Trevor Stirling of Bernstein Research told CBS News. “The scale of the slowdown has come as a surprise to everyone.”

If consumers seem to be growing bored with beer and even craft beer, Mintel said many of these shoppers are not abandoning alcoholic bottled beverages in totality. They are simply choosing so-called beer alternatives, such as alcoholic sodas and hard ciders, as well as a new kind of innovation in the beer category: flavored beers (especially fruit-flavored). Sales of hard sodas, ciders and flavored beers indicate that consumers are increasingly looking for sweeter alcoholic beverages.

“Well over half of all U.S. alcohol drinkers say they are interested in flavored beer. This highlights a significant opportunity to boost participation in the beer category. Leading flavors among product launches include pumpkin, spicy, coffee and chocolate, while newer products, including hard or alcoholic sodas, have become more widely available,” said Beth Bloom, food and drink analyst at Mintel.

In the last year, fruit beers grew 63% in volume and 82% in revenue. Mintel’s research shows that volume sales in the hard cider sector grew fivefold between 2010 and 2015, reaching an estimated 31 million (2.25-gallon cases).

Mintel’s Global New Products Database reveals that the proporztion of new flavored beer product launches has grown from just 15% of total U.S. beer launches in 2010 to 27% of total U.S. beer launches in 2015, an 80%-increase over the five-year period. While flavor innovation is booming, Mintel revealed that the proportion of unflavored beer launches has declined from 85% of the total beer market in 2010 to less than three quarters (7%) in 2015.

Mintel said it is young women who are particularly drawn to flavored varieties, with usage peaking among women between the ages of 22 to 34 years old (39%). The firm said that about 57% of beer drinkers who increased their beer consumption in 2015 credit this increase to a wider availability of flavors. Overall, as many as 3-in-5 (58%) U.S. alcohol drinkers said they are interested in fruit-flavored beer, with other flavors such as spicy (45%) tart/ sour (45%) and beer blended with juice, tea and soft drinks (49%) also showing strong potential.

And then there is hard soda, which is growing so quickly that it currently represents more than 1% of total beer category dollar sales. That is only slightly behind hard cider’s share of 1.2%, according to IRI.

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