BevAlc Insights’ 2021 Light Lager Forecast
Despite share losses to hard seltzer, light lager shows signs of a strong future ahead
No other beer category is as closely intertwined with American drinking culture than light lager, a staple at neighborhood bars and backyard barbecues. But with the rapid ascent of hard seltzer in recent years, light lager’s share of beer sales has begun to wane. Will light lager maintain its status as an American mainstay in coming years?
Share Decline for an American Staple
Light lager can trace its origins back to the 1940s with the release of Coors Light, and the category has come to represent lighter-body, lower-alcohol, lower-calorie beers from major beer brands. For many years, it was the top-selling beer category among U.S. consumers, accounting for 22 percent of beer share on Drizly in 2019, but in just the past two years, that has shifted.
As hard seltzer — which takes light lager’s selling points and goes even further, offering lower calories, lower carbs, and a lighter, easier-drinking flavor — has exploded, more consumers have shifted away from light lager. Hard seltzer first overtook Drizly’s beer category (which includes beer, seltzer, and cider) as the top-selling subcategory in July 2019, and it has held that spot in the years since.
“It is impossible to ignore the impact that hard seltzer’s rise to prominence over the past few years has had on the light lager category,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights.
In 2021 to date, light lager holds 19 percent of beer share and is the second-largest beer subcategory after hard seltzer. While that is up from last year’s share over the same time period (18 percent), it is down three percentage points from the same time period in 2019.
Over the past two years, a slew of major light lager brands have launched their own hard seltzers to remain competitive, such as Bud Light, Corona and Coors. “This has caused some fans of the brands to shift from light lager to hard seltzer purchases,” says Paquette.
Light lager sales also tend to be fairly seasonal, gaining share in the summer, so it remains essential for retailers to stock during warm weather months. In 2020, light lager share peaked in July at 18 percent share of the beer category.
Which Light Lagers Are Selling?
Despite sales share shifts, the top-selling light lagers on Drizly have remained relatively stable. Sales are dominated by nationally-sold brands from large companies like Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors, and most of the brands themselves are American-made (with the exception of the Mexican brand Corona).
Drizly’s Top-Selling Light Lagers, Year-to-Date
- Bud Light
- Coors Light American Lager Beer
- Miller Lite Lager Beer
- Corona Extra Mexican Lager Beer
- Michelob Ultra
- Corona Light Mexican Lager Light Beer
- Corona Premier Mexican Lager Light Beer
- Bud Light Platinum
- Busch Light
- Natural Light
However, new and growing light lagers indicate increased consumer interest in international flavors and inspiration. The top two fastest-growing light lagers on Drizly are inspired by Mexican flavors, while Karbach Lil’ Chela mimics a Mexican light lager and DC Brau Tuk Tuk Lager is inspired by an Asian light beer.
Drizly’s Fastest-Growing Light Lagers, Year-to-Date
- Cape May Tan Limes Mexican Lager
- Michelob Ultra Infusions Pomegranate & Agave
- Karbach Lil’ Chela Light Beer
- DC Brau Tuk Tuk Lager
- Yuengling Flight
Don’t Count Light Lager Out
Despite declining share, light lager isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, in fact, recent data indicates that it can successfully coexist alongside hard seltzer. In 2021 to date, share levels show signs of a potential recovery for light lager, with May 2021 share (20 percent) already surpassing 2020 highs.
“Signs point to light lager having a stronger summer this year than 2020,” says Paquette. “One potential factor attributing to this rebound is the lift in pandemic restrictions causing consumer behavior returning back to “normal” with increases in social gatherings.”
Though light lager brands’ forays into hard seltzer may have shifted some of their own consumers towards hard seltzer, these hard seltzer launches have also brought new consumers to these staple light lager brands, which could potentially drive light lager sales in the long run. Combined with innovation and inspiration derived from Mexican and Asian light beers and flavors, light lager has a strong future ahead.