Want a Bud? No, I'll take a Goose Island

Light Beer Brands Victims of Big Brewer Push Into Craft

Goose Island is the new Bud. So are Shock Top and ZiegenBock. And Leinenkugel’s and Blue Moon, for that matter, could be called the new Coors or Miller.

Those brands are all owned by the world’s biggest brewers, which are aggressively rolling out products designed to appeal to fans of craft beer. But they’re not putting the microbrewers who started the movement out of business.

Instead, the new labels are taking sales from already- troubled mass-market brands owned by the industry giants peddling these crafty brews. Analysts say that may actually be a boon for their owners as margins can be “considerably higher” for craft beers, according to researcher Canadean.

“I don’t really drink Bud Light anymore,” said Tait Foster, a 27-year-old who works at a foreign policy research group in New York. Instead, he’s started sampling a wider range of brews such as Goose Island and Blue Moon. “Bud Light, Coors and all those others are like beer-flavored water.”

Sales of craft beers grew 16% in volume over the past year versus a 1.7% decline for the biggest U.S. beer brands, according to researcher Symphony IRI Group. Sales of Bud Light were off by 1.3% and Miller Lite slid 4.4%.

That’s prompted multinationals like Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and MillerCoors LLC, with about 75% of the U.S. market between them, to introduce their own craft-like brews -- many of which make little or no mention of their corporate parentage.

Hard Ciders

AB InBev paid $38.8 million for Goose Island in 2011, five years after it signed a distribution deal with the Chicago brewer. And in 2006 it created Shock Top, a Belgian-style wheat ale, to take on Blue Moon, the biggest of the craft-like labels owned by industry leaders. The Goose Island brands soared 69% last year, AB InBev said, citing Symphony IRI data, while Shock Top beers jumped 14%.

MillerCoors, co-owned by SABMiller Plc and Molson Coors Brewing Co., in 2010 set up a unit called Tenth & Blake to focus on Blue Moon and other niche brews as well as premium imports such as Pilsner Urquell from the Czech Republic and Cusquena from Peru. Today, it has more than a dozen brands, including two hard ciders.

“We looked at where the growth sectors were, and craft was exploding,” said Tom Cardella, president of Tenth & Blake. “When you look at the marketing of craft, it requires a different approach.”

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