As a segment, the import category has continued to establish itself within the American beer market. An increase of dollar sales by 8.2 percent in the last 52 weeks translates to over $500 million more than the previous year, for a total of over $1.3 billion in sales.
These numbers rank the imported beer category as the second largest category behind only Domestic Premium (Bud Light, etc.) – an impressive feat. Imports are fast approaching 20 percent of total market share, weighing in at 18.73 percent, having increased a whopping 7.2 percent in the last calendar year.
However, some segments of the import category are faring better than others. Let’s examine further.
For those keeping track, it will be no surprise that the Mexican Imports segment dominates the category, comprising just under 70 percent of total import dollar share and increasing to almost $900 million in total sales.
Proximity is a key factor in determining why these changes have occurred. As a neighboring country, ease of import and demographic and cultural ties between the U.S. and Mexico facilitate sales, trade and growth. Factor in the easy-drinking nature of lager-dominant Mexican beer, which marries with the American palate as both a stand-alone beverage and a food pairing, and you’ve got a winning combination. Also, while it may be obvious, costs of transportation are lower for Mexican imports that don’t have to cross an entire ocean to reach the American drinker.
As an interesting aside, though Mexican imports reign supreme, the Latin American Imports category, which comprises all other countries in the region, ranks lowest on the list at just .23 percent of total dollar share. Reasons for this disparity could include a domestic focus (rather than a focus on exporting for the nations included in the Latin American category) or simply that the brand recognition and infrastructure for exporting smaller Latin American beer brands to the U.S. just isn’t there.
But what about the rest of the import category?
European Imports are holding strong, despite the myriad challenges they face in reaching the American consumer. All European countries combined are holding strong, down less than a percent of total dollar sales to just over 26 percent of the total dollar share – about $339 million.
Within this blanket category, some countries are faring better than others. Belgian Imports continue to shine, with a high price per volume and the foothold to back it up. The category has increased its dollar sales by 3.4 percent in the last calendar year, up to $87 million. This places Belgian Imports at around 7 percent of the total import dollar share and about one quarter of the European Import category.
Holland Imports, while remaining the largest European Imports category, are down about 1.5 percent from the previous calendar year, sitting at about 13 percent of the total import dollar share. These numbers will mirror a trend seen within most other segments of the Import category. In fact, the only other category that saw an uptick in dollar sales was Australasian Imports, which increased its dollar sales by 1.7 percent.
Canadian, German, U.K. Imports and other smaller catch-all categories have seen dips in sales. Interestingly, German sales have dropped by 11.6 percent compared to last year, almost exactly inversely proportionate to the 11.5 percent increase seen by Mexican Imports. The numbers are similar for the U.K. while Canadian Imports have seen a milder drop of around 1.5 percent, though it remains a larger category.
What we can gather from this information is a confirmation of the uphill battles these imported segments face. Not only are they competing with American craft and domestics, but they are contending with the intrinsically advantaged Mexican Imports category. The key to future success remains in the ability of these brands to evolve and adapt.
For some, this may translate to bold new marketing approaches or brands. For others, it may be time to regroup and refocus on turf closer to home. Overextension is the quintessential story of beer brands that have come and gone. However, many of the imported brands coming to the U.S. have decades or centuries of history and have weathered trying times before. For some, the answer may simply be to hold fast and remain true to what has made them great.
As always, it must be noted that these numbers do not delineate between sales of craft and macro beer. Were these segments broken down into finer detail, you’d see more dollar share for countries like Belgium, Germany and the U.K., and less for Mexico, which rides on the heels of Corona, Modelo and Dos Equis.
For more on the numbers and their sources, see below:
IRI Worldwide is a market research firm that tracks category-wide sales trends of beer sold in numerous retail outlets and then produces a monthly report of its findings. These findings can be used to provide real-time insight into the ever-changing beer marketplace, both craft and macro. Here we examined the most important changes in the world of imported beer over the first quarter of 2018. These findings can help you make more informed choices as a consumer and can help commercial brewers adapt to the marketplace. Sometimes, it’s just fun to see what’s hot and what’s not.
Here are a few things to keep in mind – these numbers are on a national level and may not represent specific states accurately. The numbers also do not represent beer sold on-premise, which would likely skew the numbers in the favor of smaller brewers, who are far more likely to see profits from onsite sales. They track sales of packaged beer only, from a few different sources, including convenience stores (think gas stations), a general “food” category (grocery stores, etc.) and a combined multi-outlet and convenience (MULC) store category (a combination of grocery, drug, Wal-Marts/Sam’s Clubs, dollar stores and military stores, among others). We will focus on the MULC category. While not all-encompassing, it’s a great, well-rounded resource.