Tops of 2018: Top-Growing Beer Categories

Tops of 2018: Top-Growing Beer Categories

2018 was another challenge-filled year for the U.S. beer market, as the industry continued to battle fragmentation, increased competition, and shifting consumer preferences. Within Nielsen-tracked retail channels, in-store dollar sales for beer were down 0.1% from 2017. 

Despite the continued deceleration that has occurred over the past five years, many of the sub-categories within the total beer category have been able to post notable sales gains in the off-premise channel (retail sales). In 2018, for example, hard seltzer bubbled to new heights and became a breakout star for the total market (includes beer, flavored malt beverages {FMBs} and ciders), delivering triple-digit growth and achieving more than 1% category share.

Additionally, for the first time in three years, the U.S. cider market posted off-premise sales growth. Positive sales of rosé-flavored cider offerings dominated the summer cider market, and regional local ciders have shown consistently strong growth, becoming a rising sector to watch.

While dollar sales in the craft beer category declined throughout the year, growth flourished within select styles. India Pale Ales (IPAs) grew sales the most out of any style in 2018, with the juicy/hazy craze helping to drive the largest craft style. Lighter, more sessionable craft styles also saw growth in 2018.

Healthy growth within select sub-categories within the U.S. beer market brought a bright spot to 2018 sales. Here are the top-growing categories of the year.

Beer Trends In the On-Premise Market

Within the U.S. on-premise channel (i.e., bars, restaurants, etc.), tracked by Nielsen CGA, volume sales of beer declined 1.8% from a year ago. The domestic premium segment was a large driver of the declines, as volume sales in this segment dipped 5.9%; the pale lager style also contributed, with volume sales sliding 2.3%.

Despite the lackluster trends across the entire beer category in the on-premise channel, there were pockets of growth, just as we identified in the off-premise channel. The import beer sub-segment, for example, experienced a strong year, posting 3.4% volume growth in U.S. bars and restaurants. Mexican beer brands were strong contributors of this growth, posting volume sales growth of 8.0%. IPAs were the top-selling beer style across the on-premise channel, with a slight volume growth of 1.0%, which was driven by a 1.6% average price increase.

Breaking down 2018’s on-premise performance across the U.S., Los Angeles and Miami are the top performers when it comes to beer sales, with volume growth of 1.1% and 1.0%, respectively. In Miami in particular, craft beer drove notable volume growth of 8.8% versus a year ago.

It’s interesting to note that on-premise sales volume of cider is in decline (down 4%), which contrasts trends within the off-premise channel. The decline of cider within the on-premise market reflects a general slowdown in sales within this sub category.