Smaller brewers make some major gains in production, while big beer continues to struggle.
Yesterday, we looked at which states consume the most beer. But when Americans do drink, what brands are the most likely to gravitate towards? Using shipping volume data provided by Beer Marketer’s Insights, the site 27/4 Wall Street dug into that question this week as well, revealing what it bills as the “26 Most Popular Beer Brands.” Though a simple ranking may be interesting, the numbers behind it also tell a larger story about how America’s mass-market beer choices have shifted.
Worth noting, “popular” is a relatively ambiguous word that can mean a lot of things, and for this list, 24/7 Wall St wasn’t conducting any sort of subjective popularity contest. Instead, they used a specific metric: domestic shipping volume. Of course, any brand that moves the most volume is clearly popular, but this stat can also skew towards less expensive beer, as opposed to ranking beer brands based on sales dollars—which can give a boost to craft brands like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada that tend to sell at a higher price point. As to whether popularity is better represented by where people spend their money or what they drink in volume, well, that’s a debate best left for another time.
But as far as volume is concerned, the top four brands are all our usual suspects. Bud Light is a clear winner, shipping 33.1 million barrels. Even after a 6.2 percent drop in barrels shipped from the year before, Bud Light still holds a remarkable 15.4 percent market share and moved twice as much product as the number two brand, Coors Light, which shipped 16.5 million barrels. To go back and put that 15.4 percent market share in perspective, it basically means that over one in every seven beers drank in the U.S. was a Bud Light.
Coming in third and fourth on the list are Budweiser (13.3 million barrels shipped) and Miller Lite (13.1 million barrels). You may recall that earlier this year, a story made the rounds that “For the First Time Ever, America's Three Top-Selling Beers Are All Light”—so a couple clarifications are necessary. Again, that is dollar sales, not shipment volume, though it’s also possible that the change happened recently enough that the data Beer Marketer’s Insights provided doesn’t yet reflect it. Regardless, one thing is certain: Bud is trending downward, seeing a 7.5 percent drop from the year before compared to Miller Lite’s still troublesome, but less so, drop of 2.8 percent from 2016.
In fact, all the top four brands shipped fewer barrels in 2017 than they did the year before. As we’ve discussed in the past, the whole beer industry produced less volume last year. But one bright spot in volume growth was Mexican brands: With a 3.6 percent increase in shipments from the previous year, Corona was fifth on the list, and with 17.4 percent growth, Modelo Especial jumped up to seventh on the list. Wedged between those two is one of America’s hottest beer brands, Michelob Ultra, which saw a whopping 21.3 percent increase in shipments making it America’s sixth largest brand.
But across the board, the losses were more prevalent than the gains: Only ten of the top 26 brands saw volume growth in 2016. This fits the larger trend that beer is seeing more growth from its smallest brewers than its largest ones. Though keep in mind, it would take over 2,200 microbreweries working at a maximum 15,000 barrel capacity to make the same amount of beer as Bud Light. So the brewers at the top are still the ones with the most sway in the industry as a whole.
Here’s the rest of your top 26 brands from number nine on down: Busch Light (6.7 million barrels shipped), Busch (4.7 million), Heineken (4.0 million), Keystone Light (3.5 million), Miller High Life (3.5 million), Stella Artois (2.7 million), Bud Ice (2.6 million), Pabst Blue Ribbon (2.5 million), Natural Ice (2.4 million), Yuengling Lager (2.2 million), all varieties of Blue Moon (2.1 million), Dos Equis (2.0 million), Coors Banquet (1.7 million), Steel Reserve (1.6 million), Icehouse (1.3 million), Corona Light (1.2 million), Mil’s Best Ice (1.2 million), and Guinness (1.1 million).