Effectively merchandising light beers and booming niche products can help attract new consumers to the beer category.
Craft beers have been getting most of the buzz—and shelf space—in the beer cooler these days. However, retailers that stock a wide assortment of light beers, hard ciders and niche beers for dietary needs can make their beer case more productive, profitable and attract a broader range of consumers. Dietary-specific beers, like gluten-free have taken off over the last year or so, say industry observers.
“Our gluten-free beers are doing excellent,” says Will Thompson, the beer buyer for Orchard Fresh, a one-unit upscale specialty grocer in Orchard Park, N.Y., owned by Tops Markets. “When we first started out we only had Redbridge from Budweiser, but you can get that in a lot of places, and with all the gluten-free items we have in this store it was imperative to get more. It is amazing how much the gluten-free community talks to each other because we’ve sold a ton of it.”
“We have several options within our portfolio for consumers who are looking to enjoy gluten-free beverages,” says Mike Potthoff, vice president of large format, at St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch. “Redbridge is a nationally available gluten-free beer made with sorghum—a safe grain for those allergic to wheat or gluten.”
Bard’s Tale Beer Co. is the originator of the gluten-free segment, according to Brian Kovalchuk, CEO of the Plymouth, Minn.-based brewer. “Our beer tastes as close to regular beer as you can get because we malt the sorghum for our beer. No one else does that,” Kovalchuk says. “The reason no one else does that is because it is not commercially available. We buy the sorghum and malt it ourselves and then it gets sent to the brewery to be turned into beer.”
Bard’s audience has been expanding in recent years, says Kovalchuk. “Originally the beer was targeted to people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance problems. Today many people are voluntarily choosing a gluten-free lifestyle for health and dietary reasons, so they are picking up gluten-free products, whether a bread or a beer, so the market has expanded.”
Brewed from apples, hard ciders are also gluten-free. The growing category has caught the attention of the major players, with Heineken USA marketing Strongbow, MillerCoors Crispin, and Anheuser-Busch featuring products from Michelob and Stella Artois.
“Michelob ULTRA Light Cider is a light, naturally-sweetened and gluten-free cider made from crisp apples,” Potthoff says. “Stella Artois Cidre was also introduced earlier this year. It is a crisp, naturally gluten-free, European-style cider that is drier than the sweeter domestic U.S. ciders. The flavor profile is complex and distinct and is a refreshing alternative to white wine.”
In 2012, Chicago-based MillerCoors acquired the Crispin Cider Co., including its whole portfolio of Crispin Cider and the Fox Barrel pear cider contingency. “Cider sales have doubled the past year and Crispin Cider Co. has grown over 200% in the last 52 weeks,” says a MillerCoors spokesperson. “This segment will continue to be a focus for the company as they continue to introduce new flavors.”
Batch 19, introduced in 2010 and now available nationwide, is another focus for MillerCoors, say company officials. Marketed by its Tenth and Blake Beer Co. craft and import division, Batch 19 is inspired by the last batches of beer brewed before Prohibition. The beer’s “bold, hoppy” flavor is derived from a rare combination of hops, including hersbrucker and strisslespalt.
The Boston Beer Co. has added several items to its roster. This year marks the first time that Samuel Adams OctoberFest is available in cans. “OctoberFest is a deep red amber, marzen style lager, brewed with rich malt complexity, a light Bavarian Noble hop note, and a smooth sweet finish,” says George Ward, director, off-premise national accounts at Boston-based Boston Beer.
Also being introduced to the Barrel Room Collection is Samuel Adams Tetravis, described as a bold interpretation of a traditional Belgian Quad. “At 10.2% ABV (alcohol by volume), this brew is a rich and complex Belgian Quad with a molasses sweetness and notes of dark fruits, like figs and raisins,” Ward says.
Boston Beer has also had success with its Sam Adams Light. Ward says the brew was two years in development because the company wanted to provide a craft beer experience from a light beer.
“Sam Light uses roasted malt to add color and flavor without adding the calories, and the Noble hop blend we use balances the caramel flavor with its soft spiciness and tropical fruit,” Ward says. “We include an extra step in the brewing process, called decoction mash, as well as long aging, to help develop Sam Light’s smooth flavor.”
MillerCoors is promoting Coors Light with a “Spread Holiday Cheer With the World’s Most Refreshing Beer” promotion that launches on November 1 with limited-edition holiday packaging, say company officials. It is part of a series of new limited edition designs that will run through 2014.
Anheuser-Busch continues to promote Bud Light Platinum, which launched in 2012. “It was an instant hit, becoming the No. 1 new alcohol launch in the last five years,” Potthoff says. Earlier this year the brand introduced an 11.5-ounce reclosable aluminum bottle and has signed on singer Justin Timberlake for an ad campaign.
A 16-ounce reclosable aluminum bottle is being introduced for the Bud Light brand. “It features a unique sleek shape that brings the crisp refreshing taste of Bud Light to life in a whole new way,” Potthoff says. “It will be available in an eight-pack that features dynamic and disruptive graphics designed to drive interest and breakthrough at retail. We believe this package represents a large opportunity in all channels.”
Many brewers use their light beers to target female drinkers, say industry observers. “The beer category tends to be very male dominated, but light does skew a little more female, and women who drink beer are more likely to drink light,” says Gary A. Hemphill, managing director, for Beverage Marketing Corp., based in New York.
“The alcohol industry is still really guy-oriented; Mike’s Hard Lemonade, which girls primarily drink, is still marketed towards men,” says Rich Simon, COO, of Social Blends, the West Nile, Ill.-based manufacturer of the Slim Lizzy line of wine-based reduced calorie cocktails.
Slim Lizzy is available in Cosmopolitan, Strawberry Daiquiri and Margarita flavors. “We call Slim Lizzy the craft beer alternative for women,” Simon says, adding that the brand is working with beer distributors to offer the cocktail line on tap in on-premise establishments to build trial and awareness.
Currently Slim Lizzy is available in a 750- ml bottle with cans coming in spring 2014. “We had a pouch program, but that segment got really saturated,” Simon says. “In order to better compete and in learning from our beer distributors, we’re going to switch over to a single-serve 8-ounce can. That will give us an opportunity to compete in the cooler set where the beer and Mike’s Hard Lemonade are bought.”
Simon adds that the cans can be merchandised either warm or cold. “Women do have different preferences and the beer industry has been trying to sell beer to women for years,” he says. “We’ve seen the ciders do really well and women have been buying those. I think this plays in the ready-to-drink low-calorie option.”
Anheuser-Busch has expanded Bud Light into the cocktail arena with Bud Light Lime-A-Rita and Straw-Ber-Rita. “We are extending the brand authentically into the margarita space with a refreshing, ready-to-drink margarita-flavored alcohol beverage,” Potthoff says. “What really separates the Bud Light Lime Ritas from our other innovations is that it was consumers who placed Bud Light Lime into margarita occasions with homemade beer-ritas; we’re just adding a new level of convenience with a ready-to-drink package.”
Heineken USA is gearing up for the holiday season with its Beers of Mexico Fiesta Variety Pack. Available in 12-packs of bottles or cans, the Beers of Mexico Fiesta pack contains equal quantities of Dos Equis Lager, Tecate and Sol.
“The variety pack segment in the U.S. beer market continues to show growth and enjoys ongoing appeal for the consumer,” says Kirsten Walpert, brand manager, Dos Equis for White Plains, N.Y.-based Heineken USA.
“Year-to-date case sales of our Beers of Mexico pack are up 125% versus last year with dollar sales up 137% for the same period,” Walpert says. “As we approach the holiday celebration season, the Beers of Mexico pack offers consumers the perfect all-in-one solution to enhance their party experiences. For retailers, the Beers of Mexico pack leverages the high-margin Heineken USA portfolio of Mexican brands and provides ideal holiday fiesta cross-merchandising opportunities.”
The Beers of Mexico Holiday program runs from November 1 through December 31.
Heineken is promoting the pack at retail with channel-specific IRC (instant redeemable coupons) and MIR (mail-in rebate) offers on high indexing fiesta related items, including fajita ingredients, chips and dip, wine and festive decorations that will encourage take away of the Beers of Mexico pack and cross-category products.
The packs are being merchandised with colorful, eye-catching point-of-sale and a 12-case stacker designed to display the Beers of Mexico variety pack and special offer items. Heineken officials say it will provide shoppers with convenient, one-stop fiesta shopping that will increase rate of sale and drive higher retail basket rings.
“Mexican beer is festive and its taste refreshing and it is strongly associated with socializing and celebration,” says Walpert. “Our Beers of Mexico variety pack is designed to enhance consumers’ holiday celebrations and drive sales of Heineken USA’s Mexican brands.”