Paying a premium

Specialty, microbrewed beers lead growth in U.S. beer consumption

Sept 24, 2002 - Sales of specialty beers and light beers helped keep U.S. beer consumption growing in 2001, according to the 2002 Adams Beer Handbook. Consumption was up 0.6%, the slowest growth rate in four years, and despite a 0.3% decline in domestic beer sales. Imports grew 8.8%.


The study by the Adams Beverage Group showed that super premium, microbrewed and specialty beer consumption was up 9.6% and light beer was up 2.9%. Premium beers were down 4.1%, popular beers were down 6.3%, malt liquor was down 8.7%, and ice products were down 4.8%. The study did not factor in "malternatives" in consumption figures.

Robert Keane, co-publisher/editorial director for Adams, told the St. Louis Business Journal said the categories are sorted by type of beer and price. The super premium category includes beers such as Michelob, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, and various regional and microbrewed brands. The premium category includes domestic beers such as Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, Original Coors. The popular category, which is a price category, includes Busch, Keystone, Milwaukee's Best, Old Milwaukee and Miller Highlife. The malt liquor category includes the traditional higher-proof beers, such as Colt 45, and the ice category includes Icehouse, Natural Ice, Bud Ice and Miller Lite Ice.

"The appeal of premium, luxury products of all types have captured consumers, and beer is riding the wave," Keane said. "The strength of lights and imports has proven to be resilient over the course of the past decade."

Keane said he expects the low-carbohydrate beers, such at Michelob Ultra, just hitting the market will be successful for many of the same reasons that light beer was. "If they taste good and whatever process they go through to remove the carbohydrates doesn't effect the flavor or the character of the beer to a degree, there is tremendous potential for it," he said.