Looking back on 2020, the most interesting year for the beer industry. 

As we’re nearing the end of the hectic year that was 2020, we can see a more complete picture of the beer industry and the impact of a global pandemic. Fintech and NBWA have closely monitored trends to see how the industry has reacted to the turbulent changes that swept the nation. While the numbers look very different compared to 2019 in terms of what products consumers are purchasing and where those transactions are taking place, the data shows that Americans are consuming virtually the same volume of beer in a year-over-year analysis. 

Hard seltzers are the beer industry’s rising starsand sales to retailers (STRs) in this category increased significantly from 2019. In mid-summer 2020, we saw STRs of two million cases, where at the same time last year, case sales were less than one million. We also observed that as the seltzer category has grown, it has begun to take on the industry’s attributes as a whole by developing seasonal trendsHard seltzers saw peak sales during the summer months (approximately weeks 20-27), and STRs started to drop off as we moved into the cooler fall weather months. However, even with lower sales towards the end of the year, seltzer numbers in 2020 still remained higher in a year-over-year comparison. 

Just comparing end-of-year data to January of 2020, seltzers saw interesting developments in market share this year. At the beginning of 2020, the top three seltzer brands, White Claw, Truly, and Bud Light Seltzer, accounted for 91% of the entire market. Only 50 weeks later, those three brands are still the largest but make a combined 83%. Why is this important? Because it means that new entrants to the market are beginning to gain share as consumers are starting to explore these new brands for some of their seltzer purchases. Some of the brands that have seen significant growth in their market share in 2020 are Truly, which saw a 5% jump since JanuaryCorona Seltzer grew 3.7%, and Vizzy Hard Seltzerwhich only hit the shelves in March, is ending the year at 2.4%These indicators show that the hard seltzer market is continuing to grow at an incredible pace, and competition is becoming fiercer. 

Other 2020 industry-altering changes, like package mix, can be directly attributed to the coronavirus pandemic and the following closures in the on-premise space. With limited in-room dining and restaurants serving less beer from the tap caused keg volumes to drop off, and at one point even hit the negative, since beer spoiled and kegs were returned. However, can sales rose 7% between the first 11 weeks of the year and weeks 12-20 identifying the demand for take-out, combined with alcohol to go, as a strong contributor to the increase.  

Obviously, because of the varying closures of bars and restaurants around the countrywe saw significantly more volume moving out of the off-prem space. What has been interesting to see is what channels in the off-premise have seen significant growth and are selling the most, compared to 2019 data from the same segments. Small grocery stores are outperforming their sales from last year, and they’re closely followed by liquor and package stores, wholesale clubs, and value stores.  

Seasonal beers are always a rising performer this time of year and despite closures in the on-premise space, fall beers came through as expected in 2020. However, this year the fall beers reached peak sales at a later point than they did in 2019. Winter and holiday beer data is starting to trickle in, and while STRs for this category were initially higher than 2019, the sales did drop off sooner than expected. But if the same pattern for fall seasonals continues, we see potential that winter beers could pick up again in these last couple of weeks. 

As we move into the new year, there are still many questions we’ll be waiting to answer in 2021. Will the off-premise be able to carry the weight of the industry? Will cans be able to support beer holiday purchase habits with packaging constraints? Will seltzers be able to compete with spirits in the on-premise space once regulations begin to lift and restaurants reopen? If anything, we’ve learned how unpredictable one year can be, and we’ve learned that despite many obstacles, the beer industry has proven strong and adaptable in the face of challenges due to its distributor network and the three-tier system. 

To hear Lester Jones, Chief Economist at NBWA, a Fintech partner, and Jim Kallies, Director of Distributors at Fintech, give their full analysis of the 2020 beer industry review, check out the on-demand webinar here. 

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