It took several years after Miller Lite rolled out that it would sell as almost everyone doubted that it would. Once it became apparent that Miller Lite was the real deal, all the other breweries jumped on the bandwagon.
The big nationals went all in, first it was Budweiser Light, which as we all know, struggled to gain traction until the name was shortened to Bud Light. Coors Light, in their test markets, also struggled but only because the can color was similar to Coors and confused the consumer. Coors Light went to a silver can and the brand took off. Finally, Schlitz, had numerous issues with a light beer having to reintroduce it over and over. Schlitz could never gain any traction even though this was in the 1970s, years before Schlitz’s QA problems sunk them. By now all the national breweries and almost all regional breweries brought out their version of a light beer. Almost all of these lights were line extensions of the brewery’s core beer.
By the end of the 1970s, light beer was flying as retail cold boxes all changed to reflect the category. In the 1980s, as the imports became a factor, most of those brought out light beers starting with Corona Light. These imported lights had a struggle in getting traction, but it did happen. Even Heineken, years later, finally had a hit with Heineken Light. Many imported lights disappeared as their brewers and imports did not have the resources to compete.
The success of Michelob Ultra also has created a market for low carb beers and with the possible exception of Corona Premier, most low carb beers died. This is especially true with those breweries who choose not to line extension their low carb beer with their core brand but to create a new label. This is true with Coors’s effort along with Heineken. Seltzers, this decade’s light beer, is now going through the same steps as it took several years to see that seltzers were not a fad but here to stay. A recent Labor Day visit to a local Total Wine, showed that seltzers owned all the end caps however unlike last year, the number of different and new seltzers was incredible.
Around 5 years ago, one could shop a Total Wine and be not only amazed at the number of crafts, one could never guess who most of the breweries were or where they came from. Today is the same with the seltzers. Every week there seems to be more and more new seltzers hit the market.
AB, MillerCoors, Constellation, Boston, and Mike’s along with some other large brewers and regionals will survive. As with all the light beers, soon many of the new seltzers will die as their resources are limited and they are not able to separate themselves from the masses. How are these seltzers being able to get through the clutter and to the consumer?
Crafts might take a step back and look at the big picture. If seltzers eventually hit a market share of 15% and as big as that is, that means that 85% of the business is still beer!
In this business you can’t make any plans!