Round-Up - NPD: 2013 - The 'Summer of Shandy'

By | 20 May 2013

This month, Tom Vierhile from Datamonitor considers the recent swathe of NPD in the shandy - or radler - sub-category.

If 1968 was the “summer of love” then 2013 is in the running to be the “summer of shandy.” All of a sudden, alcohol beverage makers from around the world have become obsessed with these beer & lemon or lemonade blends. And, while beer and lemon have been dance partners for decades, they have never had the marketing push and attention that they are currently enjoying.

The recent new product launch numbers bear out a sudden surge of interest in shandy or 'radler' beverages. According to Datamonitor Consumer’s Product Launch Analytics database of new products, the number of new shandy or radler product launches more than tripled between 2008 and 2012. And, through the first four-and-a-half months of 2013, the global new product launch numbers for shandy beverages are already nearly equal to the full-year launch count for 2011.

The irony of the recent surge is that this type of beverage is hardly new. Radler dates back to the 'Roaring Twenties', when a German innkeeper named Franz Xavier Kugler stumbled onto the mixture. According to the German Beer Institute, Kugler built a bicycle path through the forest, from Munich right to his establishment called Kugleram. The path worked – probably too well – when Kugler suddenly found himself inundated with some 13,000 bicycle riders on a warm day in June of 1922. Fearing that he was going to run out of suds and maybe have a riot on his hands, Kugler stretched his beer supply by mixing beer with a prodigious quantity of clear lemon soda that he had on hand after an earlier failed attempt to sell the thirst quencher. Cutting the beer with the soda in a 50/50 ratio to create Radlermass (literally “cyclist litre of beer”), Kugler saved the day and avoided running out of beer. He even claimed credit for creating the drink as a way to keep the cyclists sober for the ride home.

Now, some will say that it was the British, and not the Gerrmans, who did the innovating first with shandy and similar beer and soft drink blends. But, what matters today is that shandy and radler have emerged as the right products at the right time. With governments reducing allowable blood alcohol contents for driving under the influence, lower alcohol drinks seem destined to receive more attention. Generally lower in alcohol than beer, shandy and radler also provide a bridge to younger consumers reared on sweet tasting soft drinks, but seeking alcohol beverage alternatives that lack the bitter bite of beer – especially craft beer.

In Europe, many shandy products contain as little as 2% or 3% alcohol. Some might say that this is too low, but the sales results indicate otherwise. Foster’s Radler, a 2% abv blend of lager and cloudy lemon juice, saw more than 3m bottles sold in just a few weeks after its February launch in the UK. Gayle Harrison, brand director for Foster’s at Heineken UK commented that Foster’s Radler will “offer consumers something that is unique” as it “has a lower alcohol content of 2% alcohol by volume – without compromising on taste or refreshment.” Carlsberg UK is pursuing the same niche with the UK debut of Carlsberg Citrus, a lime-flavoured citrus beer with 2.8% abv. Carlsberg says the “lower strength beer category” is growing at a rate of 50%, year on year.

Most Americans have never heard of radler, and even shandy is a mystery to many. But, the US does know lemonade, and the summertime refresher has already been magic in the iced tea market. Ever since legendary golfer Arnold Palmer added lemonade to iced tea at a restaurant in Palm Springs, California in the 1960s, the marriage of lemonade and iced tea has been fruitful. Quietly, Arizona’s Arnold Palmer Half and Half Tea and Lemonade has become the number four iced tea brand in the US, with close to US$200m in sales in 2012. Can lemonade do for beer what it has done for tea?

We may soon find out, because the list of American and Canadian brewers offering shandy-style lemonade or lemon beers is growing rapidly. Molson Coors offers new Rickard’s Shandy in Canada, a 4.5% alcohol by volume drink described as the perfect blend of premium lager and classic lemonade. Anheuser-Busch InBev introduced Shock Top Lemon Shandy in 2012, a 4.2% abv wheat beer with spices and lemonade flavour. Even non-beer brands want in. Mike’s Hard Lemonade Company is out with Mike’s Authentic Shandy, marking the brand’s debut in the beer market. The product is described as a blend of Mike’s Hard Lemonade and lager. Mike’s president, Kevon Kotecki, refers to the new shandy as “the most refreshing beer ever brewed”. All of these recent entrants would love to duplicate the success of Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, a summer-only offering that has seen demand skyrocket in recent years.

For these products to catch on, they’ll have to avoid the pitfalls that sunk earlier efforts to create successful beer lemonade blends. MGD 64 Lemonade was a 2011 US launch that had just 2.8% abv and a mere 64 calories per serving. Launched as an extension to the female-oriented MGD 64 brand (since rebranded as Miller64), the product was pulled after less than three months on the market. It may have been the victim of slicing the “premium light” niche too thin and excluding male consumers turned off by such a low calorie count, or it could have been dinged by flavour issues.

Another relatively recent failure, Foster’s Twist, may offer other lessons. Launched in the UK in 2006 and featuring a “hint of citrus”, the 4.5% abv product was aimed largely at women in their 20s, and could have simply been a little bit too far ahead of its time.

Expert analysis

Consumer and Innovation Trends in Beer

This report looks at where innovation is occurring in the beer category, to what extent consumers are willing to sacrifice taste for a healthier product, how brewers are incorporating sustainability and ethics considerations into their brand identities and how industry players are using the online space to more effectively engage with consumers.

Sectors: Beer & cider

Companies: Carlsberg, Heineken, Molson Coors, Anheuser-Busch InBev

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