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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Trading Down: for real

AdAge reports that sales of "bottom-shelf" beer brands are climbing: Miller High Life is up 6.5% over the past four weeks, Keystone is up 11.2% in the same period, and both Busch and Natural Light are up as well. (Sad to see the writer of the story say that High Life was "ironically dubbed the 'Champagne of Beers'"; it sure as hell wasn't ironic when that slogan was coined.)
"I'm selling way more economy brands than I'm comfortable with," said one MillerCoors wholesaler, who said he'd seen big gains not only for High Life and Keystone but even for also-ran brands such as Milwaukee's Best and Hamm's.
"Consumers are trading down."

Yes...but they're still buying a lot of crafts. Craft sales continue to grow. How come? I think it's because more and more people are buying crafts, not the same people buying more units of craft. I said years ago that the biggest hurdle to growth that craft beer faced was one of availability: the consumer can't try it, buy it, if it isn't there on the shelf or the menu. Once it was available, I said, you'd see people grabbing it.

Well, it's happening. I just got a release from the ESPN Zone about their new craft beer program (built for them by Steve Beaumont, so yeah, it's for real), and that's just the latest. Good beer's cropping up all over, and people are buying it.

So...if you want a quick buzz, you can go cheap. If you want something really interesting and flavorful and fun and good with that dinner you've got cooking...craft is now available in all aisles.


J T. Ramsay said...

I saw the first Keystone commercial on TV recently for the first time in ages. I thought I was having a nightmare.

Lew Bryson said...

There's a Pabst billboard up on I-95 in Philly! Last Pabst billboard I remember was in Lancaster county on US-30, back in...1985? Amazing.

Anonymous said...

wait a minute though, isn't PBR urban chic now? That might not be a true bargain brand indicator.

Lew Bryson said...

Obama did drink one, I saw it.'s still cheap!

Scoats said...

Makes sense to me.

The subpremium American beers aren't all that different from those breweries' premium beers. Bud Lite, Natty Light, are they really that different? Why pay more?

Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada vs Bud, there is a big difference, which justifies not trading down to either Bud or Busch.

Lew Bryson said...

Yeah, I don't see regular craft drinkers trading down. Slowing down, maybe, "trading down" to Sam Adams, or Saranac, but not suddenly going out and buying cases of Bud Light.

But if I'm drinking Bud? Hell, yeah, Busch makes a lot of sense.

Loren said...

Is the ESPN Zone release public for viewing or just shared between you guys for now?

Pretty cool seeing beer taken seriously more and more these days. Sans the stupid beer pong crap running the circles of late.

Lew Bryson said...

I'll give you the important bits:


Leading International Beer Authority Stephen Beaumont Lends Expertise to Propel ESPN Zone as World Class Beer Destination

Sports fans thirsty for the best sports action plus delicious, refreshing beverages need to look no further: ESPN Zone today launched an improved beverage menu, complete with new cocktails, a robust beer selection and several new non-alcoholic beverages.

“Our new variety of beverages is poised to amplify our guests’ dining experience, as it is reflective of their evolving tastes and preferences,” said Weston Spiegl, manager of standards & beverage for Disney Regional Entertainment, operator of ESPN Zone. “Our patrons have come to expect the best in sports entertainment and dining from ESPN Zone, and this new array of beverages promises to offer something that really hits the spot for every taste palate.”

A Focus on Craft and Specialty Beers

ESPN Zone continues to see a growing interest in craft and specialty beer, and in response consulted with Stephen Beaumont, one of the world's leading beer authorities, to expand its beer portfolio.

“As we’re dedicated to offering a first-class beer program to our guests, the partnership with Stephen was an obvious one as he’s one of the most respected players in the field,” said Spiegl.

Unique, renowned brews such as Anchor Steam Beer, Duvel and Chimay Red, as well as off-centered ales from the Dogfish Head Brewing Co. and the famed fruit beers of the Lindemans brewery in Belgium, have been added to provide more options for both the beer connoisseur and the intrigued novice. The restaurant now also offers an organic and a gluten-free beer option at each of its eight locations.

In addition to concept-wide menu enhancements, each of the eight ESPN Zone restaurants will dedicate at least two tap handles to a rotating selection of local and seasonal brews. These ever-changing tap handles will depict seasonal brews and guest favorites, with one of the taps promoted as the “#1 Draft Pick.”
In the beer menu spread, ESPN Zone’s draft beer selections are grouped by style characteristics similar to how athletes are grouped in a professional sports team draft.

Anonymous said...

i'm a regular craft drinker, have been for close to 20 years and i've been trading down more. Some of it financial, some taste. I'm still predominantly craft but i mix in some non BMC light lager more. In fact, I plan to "trade down" to liebotschaner cream ale in a few months.

Steven said...

Keystone? Keystone?!

As my tagline at says, "Life's too short to drink bad beer."

Lew Bryson said...

I'm going to be "trading down" to some Liebotschaner myself.

Loren said...

That's pretty badass of ESPN and of course...the great Canadian beer writer.

BTW, trade down? 'Eff that! I'd give up eating a meal a day instead.

Bill said...

Anybody taking the middle path between trading down and skipping meals -- anybody drinking less? That's what I've discovered I'm doing.

Anonymous said...

Trading down doesnt mean drinking beer you dont like, in my case it means drinking beer I still like, just not as much as 50-100 dollar a case stuff.

I dont eat lobster every night, sometimes I have ground beef.

Another thing is to drink OUT less. Paying 5 or more a pint is tough to sustain when you can get a good bottle at home (stegmaier porter for instance) for 1 dollar. And often better company!

Anonymous said...

a beer i liked ithaca flower power i was paying like 10 a six with taxes and deposit . n/p with that price . but now its 11.50 a six!!! which i cant justify . great i can see paying once and a while not for just very good

Anonymous said...

And ironically A-B's billboards have gone the opposite way:

Rt.322 just off I-95: Michelob now being established as a craft beer, apparently, by Michelob Brewing Co.!!

Rt. 30 (in Lancaster Co.!), Budweiser American Ale, stating 3 words...Sip SAVOR Repeat

PS-hope to catch ya at TJ's 5th Anniversary Party, and at Sly Fox IPA Project, Lew!

rico567 said...

Don't trade down; that's my instinctive reaction to this post. I've seen several threads on homebrew forums with some people stating that Bud Ameican Ale is pretty good. Maybe so, and maybe if someone sticks a pint in my hand, I'll drink it. But I'm damned if I'll buy any. I won't support the bigs who translated American beer into an array of pale, fizzy, watery, anemic beverages. I include in this any wholly owned subsidiaries, like Blue Moon. My money goes only to Sam Adams and smaller (and more local) enterprises. Well.....also to my own brews. Brewing for a mass market means an inevitable progression toward a lowest common denominator of taste, typified by MBC beers.

Lew Bryson said...


True, but...A-B's a huge company. I've also seen some Busch billboards for the first time in years. More than one string to their bow! (I'll be at the IPA Project, but early: that's the day of my church choir Christmas concert.)