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Booze News: Canned Wine Is Up, Neighborhood Bars Down

By Published on .

So many choices
So many choices Credit: LauriPatterson/iStock
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Americans consider it their patriotic duty to drink on Memorial Day weekend -- a lot. Beer sales spiked 16% during the two weeks surrounding the holiday last year, according to Nielsen. Only the Fourth of July ranks higher than Memorial Day as the top holiday for beer sales, according to the National Beer Wholesalers Association, which notes that beer sales in the summer months are 20% higher than other months. But as the temperature rises, so does the competition as beer, wine and liquor purveyors battle for dollars from increasingly fickle drinkers. Below, a look at some key alcohol trends, courtesy of some recent Nielsen reports.

Beer keeps losing, but pricey brews holding their own

Is Joe Sixpack a dying breed? Beer's share of the alcohol market fell from 58% in 2003 to 50% last year on a share of servings basis, as wine grew from 14% to 18% and spirits jumped from 28% to 32%. For beer, it's a tale of two segments: Premium beers continue to grow as cheaper beers decline. That's not good news for volume, but better for profits because high-end brands typically earn better margins.

Life's a beach for growing canned wine segment

Surf Swim Chardonnay in cans
Surf Swim Chardonnay in cans Credit: Guarachi Wine Partners

The stigma of drinking wine-by-can is officially gone. Canned varieties still represent a small portion of total wine sales, but sales volume grew by 231% in the 52 weeks ending April 22, according to Nielsen data cited by Guarachi Wine Partners, which owns a wine brand called Surf Swim. Convenience is a major factor giving rise to offerings like Surf Swim's new canned chardonnay.

Wither the neighborhood bar?

The local watering hole - - ya know, the place where everybody knows your name -- is being forgotten. Nielsen reports 12,766 fewer neighborhood bars today compared with 2004, but there are 60,906 more restaurants. Nielsen cites several factors including smoking bans and more sophisticated grocery booze offerings that lead to more at-home drinking. Also, "the unrelenting public interest in eating out-of-home has led to massive investment in traffic-competitive, food-led concepts," said Scott Elliott, senior VP of Nielsen CGA. This is a bad omen for beer marketers because 70% of consumers who recently visited a neighborhood bar drank beer, compared with just 52% of restaurant visitors. What would Norm and Cliff say?

Taprooms rising

Neighborhood bars might be down, but taprooms -- those bars at the brewery -- are surging, especially with the young crowd. Among millennials, 23% said they visited a taproom or brewpub in the past three months. In 2016, beer sales at brewpubs and taprooms jumped 53%, a National Beer Wholesalers Association economist recently stated at a beer conference, according to a report by Beer Marketer's Insights.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe ...

Beer brands continue to plow millions of dollars into TV advertising in hopes of gaining some brand loyalty. But 72% of drinkers still don't know what beer brand they want when they walk into a store, and 75% are undecided when entering a bar or restaurant.

Menu marketing works -- and so do bartenders

Cocktail Menu
Cocktail Menu Credit: lionvision/iStock

Life decisions … beer, wine or liquor? Twenty-nine percent of drinkers don't even know what category of drink they want upon entering a bar or restaurant. Among the undecided, 26% said they are influenced by menu recommendations, while 20% are swayed by bartender advice, according to a Nielsen survey.

Drinkers are promiscuous, at least at the bar

You've probably heard the saying: "Beer before liquor, never been sicker; liquor before beer, you're in the clear." Or "Grape or grain, but never the twain." Mixing up liquor, beer and wine is a factor for the the 27% of drinkers who sample two or more alcohol categories on a single night. Does the order really matter? The BBC took a lengthy look a few years back and found that "the existing evidence suggests that hangovers can't be blamed on mixing drinks." Come Tuesday, you'll have to find another excuse.