As boredom mounts, inebriation can’t be far behind. With so many Americans stuck inside during coronavirus-related quarantine, alcohol consumption has perhaps unsurprisingly been on the rise as a whole, but the true story of this particular cataclysm when it comes to booze is not the level of consumption, but how disproportionately certain brands have benefited. In particular, it’s the budget brands that are thriving right now, as higher-cost brands understandably languish in a time when the unemployment rate is spiking and as many as one in five Americans are out of work.
This surge in what the beer-industry would label as “sub-premium” brands is illustrated by the recent growth of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Busch Light, which has grown 44% in the last two months according to data analysis firm inMarket. Some of those drinkers may well be typical Budweiser or Bud Light drinkers who are now “trading down” to the cheaper Busch Light at a time when their next paycheck is in doubt, while others may now be replacing beer they’d otherwise be consuming at bars or restaurants with 24 or 30-packs for in-home consumption. During a single week in March, the sales of those larger 24 and 30-packs of beer surged 90% according to Nielsen, in a period when most states began issuing stay-at-home orders. Nielsen also reported an 8% overall increase in the sale of what they define as “budget beer” from mid-March to mid-April.
Other brands that have seen simultaneous boosts during the pandemic have included the likes of Miller Lite, Michelob Ultra and Natural Light, which inMarket noted all grew from 14-17%. Likewise, sales of Miller High Life and Model Especial both grew 7% between March 1 and April 17, compared with sales in February before concern about the pandemic moved to the forefront of public debate.
“In a situation where tens of millions of people just got laid off or furloughed, people are definitely thinking about their wallets,” said inMarket CEO Todd Dipaola to CNN. “A lot of people are buying lite beers because they’re not moving around as much, so lower calorie beers make a lot of sense.”
We would wager that ultimately, calories are less a concern to these consumers in this particular climate than value, and that as long as so many Americans remain out of work, we should expect to see these sub-premium brands continue to boom. That’s grim news for American craft breweries in particular, who must rely on a premium price point—just one more factor that could potentially lead to widespread craft brewery closures before all is said and done.