Why beer can learn from spirits

The sales of big beer brands is dropping across large parts of the US and Europe and Chris Cassell, managing director at independant drinks marketing company White Label, explores how these brands should follow in the footsteps of spirits.

Remember Budweiser? The “King of Beers” has lost its crown. The new year has been bad news for what was once the best-selling beer in America. It’s now not even in the country’s top three best sellers.

But wait. One brand’s fall from grace doesn’t necessarily make a trend. All you have to do is take a closer look at all its competitors. Between 2016-2017 shipments from the ‘Big Five’, Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, Heineken, Pabst and Diageo all fell by 14%.

Why? Because mass beer’s been hit by a double whammy.


Firstly, there’s been a step change in the global alcohol sector, a trend shift that’s had a real impact. People are drinking less, but better. They’re looking for more flavourful, better quality drinks and they’re not afraid to pay for them. Bland is bad.

And then there’s the rise of craft. In the UK in 2017 the number of breweries exceeded 2,000 for the first time since the 1930s. It’s a similar story in the US where 83% of drinking-age Americans now live within 10 miles of a brewery.

Until now, the Big Five’s main strategy has been to buy out the competition.

These acquisitions have had mixed success. For Lagunitas it seems to have worked. This is a good example of a craft beer that’s gone from strength to strength after its acquisition by Heineken. Foodable Network compared overall sentiment before and after they took them over. They reported sentiment rise of 19.68 two years after the buyout. But others haven't been as lucky. Goose Island anyone? There’s a growing backlash against craft beer "sellouts".


Mass beer’s biggest problem is that, more than ever, people are buying philosophies, not products and services. Choosing craft beer suggests you’re more interesting, you care about small independent local businesses and you’re open to new exciting flavours.

What does mass beer say about you when you order it at the bar? Who wants to be the lager guy surrounded by IPAs, stouts and farmhouse ales? Mass beers are learning that trying to appeal to everyone, appeals to no one. ‘Open Your World’, ‘Probably the Best Beer in the World’ and Bud’s ‘America’ campaign aren’t resonating with people because they’re not speaking to consumers. They’re not connecting on an individual level.


There is one mass beer that’s engaging with consumers on an international level. You won’t be surprised to hear that it’s a beer that looks and tastes different to any other and is owned by Diageo.

The brand we’re talking about is on a mission to find and celebrate the most interesting characters and stories about people across the world.

Guinness’ campaign, “Made with More”, gives a platform to “those with the confidence to carve their own path. They’re reaping the rewards for building meaning into their beer - a 4% sales increase in 2017. This bright beacon brand means there’s hope for mass beer.