U.S. beer drinkers scored a 10-year record high in 1999, with consumption rising by 93 million gallons, it is reported in Beer in the U.S., 2000 edition, the 17th annual study of the U.S. beer market by Beverage Marketing Corporation, the leading provider of data and consulting services to the worldwide beverage industry.

Domestic brewers and importers alike "delighted in a 3-billion barrel surge in beer volume, the industry's best performance in a decade," the report declares. As a key factor in this advance, it cites growth in the number of adult drinkers and an accompanying rise in per capita consumption, equivalent to 22.3 gallons for every U.S. resident for the year. Other factors contributing to both volume growth and profitability included widespread price increases, consolidation among domestic producers, a favorable economic climate and a growing "appreciation of the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption."

Light Beers Lead the Market

Light and imported beers were primarily responsible for the growth advance. Light beer is now the largest category, approaching 40% of all beer consumed in the U.S. "Light beers," the report states, "have become the driving force of the U.S. beer business." If light beers had not advanced from 1998 to 1999, total beer volume "would have declined by 1.6 million barrels, instead of the 3 million barrel gain actually realized."

Imports grew in 1999 to reach 9% of all beer sales, passing the 550-million gallon mark. The dollar value of imports grew even more sharply, rising by 10.5% to $1.9 billion, and 1999 was the eighth year in a row with increases in import dollars and volume.

Bud Light Gains in Domestic Brand Race

Budweiser continued to hold the top spot in domestic beer sales in 1999, with an 18% share of market, the study reports. That share, however, declined from 18.7% in the prior year. Its stablemate, Bud Light, saw volume surge by 11.3%, which pushed its market share up to14.7% from 13.4% in 1998. In fact, the study opines, "Bud Light is poised to become the nation's top-selling beer in the near future." In 1999, Anheuser-Busch brands represented almost half of the beer sold in the U.S.

Two light beers, Miller Lite and Coors Light, were in a tight race for number-three position in 1999. Miller Lite held a market share of 8.3% after a volume rise of 2.2%. Coors Light's stronger 5.3% volume advance gave it an 8% market share.

Overall, the report shows that domestic beer volume in 1999 reached its highest point in five years, 178.5 million barrels, and that the three leaders, Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors, together commanded more than 82% of the market. The report also notes that the process of consolidation accelerated recently, with the dissolution of the Stroh Brewing Company and the parceling out of its brands and brewing facilities, primarily to Miller and the Pabst Brewing Company division of S&P Industries.

Among imports, Corona Extra extended the lead it first gained over Heineken in 1998, rising to a 26% market share versus the 19.2% share held by Heineken. Behind these two contenders, no other imports claimed double-digit shares. Labatt's was third in line with 5.9%, Beck's fourth with 4.5% and Tecate took fifth place with 4%. Between them, Mexico and the Netherlands accounted for nearly 62% of all beer imports by volume in 1999. In dollar terms, Mexico passed the Netherlands for the first time last year.

Glass Packaging Gains; Plastic Enters Fray

As part of a general shift towards up-market products such as imports and superpremium domestic beers, beer in glass bottles increased its share of the market, from 35.9% in 1994 to 44.5% in 1999.

Plastic was not a significant factor in the U.S. beer market in 1999. In March of 2000, however, Miller went national with a plastic bottle it had been testing since 1998. The company claims several advantages for plastic over cans and glass containers. Plastic packaging for beer may find its niche in the U.S. in coming years, as it already has in Europe.

Continued Growth Anticipated

With the continuing increase in the numbers of drinking-age adults, the report projects, the U.S. beer market will grow by more than 1% annually for the next five years, passing the 200 million barrel mark next year and reaching 210 million barrels by 2004.

Contributing to this growth will be not only gross population figures, but also an advance in per-capita consumption, rising to 22.8 gallons by 2004, the report estimates. Light beers will likely account for more than half of domestically produced volume. Imports will achieve "a blistering 41.2% increase compared to 1999," giving them "nearly 12% of the U.S. beer business," and eclipsing the domestic specialty brews, craft beers, microbrews and brewpubs, whose growth had already begun to slow in the late years of the 1990s.

At more than 300 pages with well over 100 charts, graphs and tables, the report includes comprehensive data, statistics and incisive analysis of the nationwide and regional beer markets in the U.S. The report offers data on volume, pricing and regional markets. It provides a probing examination of the various market segments, including a review of market structure based on price categories. Also covered in detail are the leading beer companies with their strategies, leadership and advertising allocations, and trends in the marketing of packaged and draft beers and distribution systems.

Beer in the U.S. is one of 27 market reports covering key components and issues in the international beverage marketplace published annually by Beverage Marketing Corporation in printed and electronic formats.