No other beer category is as closely intertwined with American culture than light lager, a staple at neighborhood bars and backyard barbecues. While the rapid ascent of hard seltzer in recent years decreased light lager’s share of beer sales, the light lager subcategory is once again on the rise.

Strong Growth Over 2021

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 until hard seltzer — with its even lower calories, lower carbs, and easy-drinking flavor — started to gain share against light lagers and became the top-selling beer subcategory on Drizly in 2019.

“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.

What’s more, 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.

Since the onset of the pandemic, light lager is gaining share. Light lager has an 18 percent share of the beer category in 2022 to date, compared to 17 percent in 2021, 15 percent in 2020, and 19 percent in 2019. 

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 options from the Mexican brand Corona).

According to AB-InBev, Michelob ULTRA was the fastest growing product in the first quarter of 2022 in the company’s core beer portfolio — a set of beer brands that saw approximately 15 percent growth in the same time period. Both Coors Light and Miller Lite grew in the last quarter of 2021 and the first quarter of 2022. In a sign that the light lager market is heating up, MillerCoors reports that the first quarter of 2022 was the best combined industry share for Coors Light and Miller Lite in five years. 

The top SKUs have stayed relatively consistent compared to the same time last year. Only Corona Premier Light moved up one spot year-over-year, taking the number five position from Corona Light. 

Drizly’s Top-Selling Light Lager SKUs, 2022 to Date

  1. Bud Light
  2. Coors Light American Lager Beer
  3. Miller Lite Lager Beer
  4. Michelob Ultra
  5. Corona Premier Mexican Lager Light Beer
  6. Corona Light Mexican Lager Beer
  7. Busch Light
  8. Natural Light
  9. Bud Light Lime
  10. Michelob Ultra Pure Gold

New and growing light lagers indicate increased consumer interest in alternative brands and, in the case of the fastest growing SKU year-to-date, lower alcohol and lower calorie options. Bud Light NEXT takes the light lager category even lighter, with zero carbs, 80 calories, and four percent alcohol by volume. The lower alcohol of light lagers is in line with recent purchasing trends; according to IWSR Data Market Analysis, no- and low-alcohol beverages are forecasted to grow by 31 percent by 2024.

Drizly’s Fastest-Growing Light Lager SKUs, Year-Over-Year

  1. Bud Light NEXT
  2. Stroh’s American Lager
  3. Cooks Light
  4. Busch Ice
  5. Seismic Tremor California Light Lager

Twelve-packs are the most common purchase size in the subcategory with a 37 percent share on Drizly, followed by 24-packs (22 percent share) and 30-packs (17 percent share).

The overwhelming majority of light lagers purchased on Drizly are cans, which have a 71 percent share compared to a 25 percent share for bottles and a four percent share for aluminum bottles.

Who Is Buying Light Lagers?

Retailers in some key markets may want to put a larger emphasis on light lagers; Denver, Boston, New Jersey, Phoenix, and Baltimore all over-index on the subcategory. And while light lager is no longer a top 10 selling subcategory overall on Drizly, it still makes it into the top 10 overall sellers on Drizly in key markets like Boston and New Jersey.

Men tend to purchase light lagers more than women, with a 56 percent share compared to a 44 percent share in 2022 to date. This is in line with beer buyer share overall (not counting hard seltzer), in which men have a 55 percent share compared to a 45 percent share for women.

Older consumers also over-index on light lager purchases on Drizly. Baby boomers have a 13 percent share (compared to an eight percent share overall on Drizly) and Gen X has a 33 percent share (compared to a 26 percent overall share). Gen Z only makes up a five percent share of the light lager subcategory (versus a seven percent overall share), while millennials have a 49 percent light lager share (compared to a 59 percent overall share). However, in the past year, Gen Z share has increased by one percent as more in the generation reach legal drinking age.

While light lagers may be associated with warmer weather for some, that isn’t necessarily the case. “Last light lager share remained relatively flat throughout the year in 2021 and did not see a significant spike during the summer compared to other months,” Paquette says. However, with the stronger light lager market year-to-date, retailers can’t rule out upcoming light lager share gains.

Seasonality aside, new options from staple lager brands, as well as a solidified and growing market position for the household name brands, suggests that the light lager subcategory has a strong future ahead.