US drinkers lighten up

- Last updated on GMT

US beer drinkers are turning away from standard and premium
domestic beers and towards light beer and imported brands,
according to a new report from Canadean.

Light and imported beers are giving a much-needed boost to the stagnating US beer market, according to a new report from market analysts Canadean​.

The total beer market in the US has grown by just 1 per cent since 1998, but sales of light and imported beer have risen by over 4 per cent and almost 9 per cent respectively during the same period.

Premium beer, popular beer and ice beer have all declined in the US, with the gap in consumption being filled mainly by imported beer. The fact that there is virtually no licensed production of foreign brands in the US has helped imported beer to grow strongly, with brands from neighbouring countries Mexico and Canada in particular appealing strongly to American consumers. These two countries account for almost 60 per cent of all beer imports.

Light beers, which are low in calories but not lower in alcohol, are unique in North America, and it is now easily the biggest sector of the beer market in the US, Canadean claims. It is still growing steadily, however, with many light versions of major brands now outperforming their regular counterparts.

Second placed premium beer has come under increasing pressure from imported and light beers and has seen its share of the market eroded to less than 20 per cent. Conversely, significant new product development activity helped consumption of super-premium and speciality beers to grow by over 7 per cent in 2002.

Although still comparatively small, the craft beer sector has become one of the most vibrant in the market. Mainly produced by microbreweries and brewpubs, the popularity of craft beer has grown strongly with 2002 consumption 20 per cent greater than it was in 1998, claims the report.

Over the last three to four decades, the US beer industry has been through a period of intense consolidation, resulting in the emergence of a small number of brewing giants. Furthermore, the five best selling brands now account for almost two thirds of all beer consumed. It is also worth noting that vertical consolidation is not possible due to the US liquor industry's unique regulations that dictate that producers, wholesalers and retailers must be independent from each other. Consolidation has also continued amongst wholesalers, albeit at a slower pace than previously.

Cans are the most popular pack type but are declining. Non-returnable glass, predominantly in 35.5cl size, is the fastest growing pack format. This growth has been fuelled not only by the success of imported brands, but by domestic brands trying to follow the lead of their foreign competitors.

The US economy remains sluggish and economic forecasts are gloomy, but the future could yet be rosy for beer, the report claims. Plans to introduce new legislation doubling the excise tax on FAB's and prevent them being sold in many outlets could turn many consumers back to beer. Nonetheless, Canadean expects total beer consumption to increase by not more than 1 per cent in 2003.

For details of how to buy your copy of Canadean's report The Beer Service - USA​ click here​.

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