Beyond the Pale
Although spring beers generally tend to be lighter than those brewed for cold-weather drinking occasions, the market for light beers doesn’t seem to be tapped out. Of course, light beers have been in demand since the late 1970s, but there’s a new crop of entries designed to appeal to beer drinkers who are minding their health, wellness and waistlines. Earlier this year, for instance, Bell’s Brewery unveiled a low-calorie wheat ale called LoSun that has just 110 calories per serving.
With many consumers seeking to cut down on carbs, beer makers are getting on board with options for those lifestyles. St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch recently launched its first zero-carb beer, Bud Light Next, which was featured in a high-profile television commercial during the Super Bowl broadcast in February. Bud Light Next contains 80 calories and has 4% ABV per 12-ounce serving.
On the heels of better-for-you offerings in other beverage categories, some beers are also getting the health-and-wellness treatment. Former professional football player Troy Aikman, for example, helped develop a new light lager called Eight that is low in carbs, contains no sugar, and is brewed with “antioxidant-rich” hops and organic grains. For consumers who seek out clean labels, Molson Coors now offers a USDA Organic beer, Coors Pure.
If shoppers are lightening up on carbs and calories as daylight saving time gets underway, they’re also easing up on the actual alcohol content of beer. Grocers can expect this rise in low- and no-alcohol beer to continue, as an estimated 18% of shoppers are buying such products, and about an equal number say that they would be interested in trying them, according to findings from Chicago-based market research firm Mintel. Another report, from Boston-based delivery platform Drizly, showed that sales of nonalcoholic products have spiked 120% on the company’s app since 2020.
In addition to nonalcoholic stalwarts like O’Doul’s, many breweries and brands are coming out with their own low- or no-ABV versions. Half Acre Brewery, in Chicago, for example, offers a 3% ABV hoppy beer called Buzzard that offers a fuller flavor, and this month, Bend, Ore.-based Deschutes is releasing a nonalcoholic version of its porter, dubbed Black Butte NA.
A Smooth Finish
As new beer varieties stir interest in the adult beverage department, merchandising and promotional efforts from grocers and their beer-producing partners will sustain and amplify that excitement.
Some grocers leverage the anticipatory factor when it comes to spring releases. Retailers that carry products with a loyal following, like Bell’s Oberon, promote the launch date and create displays with elements of the season, from lawn chairs to sunglasses to beach buckets.
Additionally, while grocers amp up the experiential side of in-store shopping to keep foot traffic at a steady pace, they can also make their beer area a destination. Lowes Foods, a Winston-Salem, N.C.-based grocer with 80 stores in the Southeast, touts its “Beer Den,” where shoppers can find a wide assortment of beers from around the world. There, shoppers can also have growlers filled to take home.
Although foodservice at retail shrank back a bit during the pandemic, the return to in-store shopping and socializing can help fuel interest in sampling and, in some cases, raising a glass at an on-site bar. Lowes, for its part, also runs a brewpub called the Cavern at its Five Forks location in North Carolina, where patrons can drink small-batch and limited-release beers.
Similarly, near Chicago, Standard Market offers a space called The Cube, featuring wine, charcuterie, appetizers and craft beers. Other retailers that have tested or opened bars within select physical stores include Whole Foods Market, Wegmans Food Markets, The Kroger Co. and Albertsons Cos., which runs a Talon Tap & Spirits bar at a flagship site in Meridian, Ida.
Finally, even as retailers add new seasonal beers and promotions, they can be mindful of some notable perennial trends within the category. According to the Brewers Association, IPAs and hazy IPAs are still the most popular types of beer in the United States.
At the same time that new beer varieties are rotating in, some beers aren’t necessarily being rooted out. For instance, Waitsfield, Vt.-based Lawson’s Finest Liquids recently unveiled plans to make its pilsner and IPA available year-round, and Buellton, Calif.-based beverage company Firestone Walker has debuted a Hopnosis IPA that it says reflects its “15-year quest to master the West Coast IPA style.”