Brewers are paying more attention to Joe Six-Pack

02/28/2014 9:26 AM

02/28/2014 9:30 PM

Joe Six-Pack is getting some love again.

MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev, after years of focusing on craft ales, ciders and imports, are paying more attention to the working man’s drink of choice: cheap beer. The two brewers, which account for three-quarters of the U.S. beer industry, will boost marketing this year for economy brands such as Miller High Life, Keystone Light and Busch Light.

During the televised Nascar race on Sunday, MillerCoors will begin airing the first national advertising for Keystone Light since 2011. A similar campaign for Miller High Life, which calls itself the “champagne of beers,” will follow in April. AB InBev will expand its marketing for Busch to year-round and recently introduced a fuller flavored version called Busch Signature Copper Lager.

“Regular guys like to drink beer, there’s no doubt about it,” said Andy England, MillerCoors chief marketing officer. “We’ve struggled with those brands a little bit.”

As persistent unemployment after the recession left blue-collar workers with less money for beer, brewers shifted resources to higher-margin brands such as MillerCoors’ Blue Moon and Leuven and Belgium-based AB InBev’s Bud Light Lime. As the economy rebounds, companies are racing to win with a crowd that is among the most loyal and thirsty of beer drinkers.

Below-premium beer sales volume fell about 3.5 percent last year, a decline that accelerated to 4.8 percent in December, according to Nielsen. Sales of above premium beers, including crafts, imports and high-end domestics, grew 11 percent last year.

The retreat in economy beer was important because the segment, at about $6 billion annually, accounts for nearly a fifth of the $31 billion U.S. beer market, according to Nielsen. By volume, the segment makes up a quarter of the market.

“It’s big,” Andrea Riberi, Nielsen’s senior vice president for alcoholic beverages research, said of the economy beer segment. “They purchase more often, they spend more and they are the most loyal.”

AB InBev recently reached its highest market share ever for the segment after a two-year turnaround, said Edison Yu, the company’s vice president for value brands. A new marketing campaign for Busch will celebrate “everyday” heroes, he said.

Economy beers sell for about $15 a case, compared with $20 a case for premium offerings such as Bud Light and Coors Light, according to IRI, a Chicago-based researcher. Super-premium brands like Michelob Ultra sell for about $25 a case.

Economy beer buyers, who skew toward older men with lower-than-average incomes, were pounded when housing and job markets crashed, Riberi said. Those drinkers didn’t necessarily switch to other beverages. They simply bought less, she said.

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