Yes, Corona is selling big during coronavirus pandemic, but so is Coors Light and Miller Lite

Yes, Corona is selling big during coronavirus pandemic, but so is Coors Light and Miller Lite

Just because much of the nation has been under stay-at-home orders doesn't mean we don't want to crack a cold one at the end of the day, or maybe even earlier.

Favorite drinking establishments have been forced to close during the coronavirus pandemic – or pivot to curbside pickup and delivery. So, many consumers have opted to buy mega-packs of beer – or hard seltzer.

The number of people buying alcohol to take home rose 27% during the week ending April 11, compared to a year ago, Nielsen says.

Also driving swig-from-home sales: online purchases. During the two-week period ending, April 18, three times as many bought alcohol online than in the two weeks ending Feb. 29, Nielsen says.

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Sales of Budweiser have been up about 3%, by dollar value, so far this year. Now there are new limited edition red, white and blue patriotic cans available this summer. The camouflage design with stars, stripes pay tribute to the five military branches.

Beer sales are up 16%, based on dollar value, so far this year up to May 10, according to Bump Williams Consulting of Shelton, Connecticut., which services the beverage alcohol industry and uses sales data from Chicago-based market research firm IRI.

"Weekly trends for beer continue to display tremendous growth," said Williams, noting that for the week ending May 10, sales were stronger than average. That suggests the Memorial Day weekend could yield "a massive week of off-premise sales," he said.

The big winners: Big beer brands such as Busch Light, Corona, Michelob Ultra, Miller Light and Coors Light. Also tracking more than 10% ahead of last year's sales are Mexican lagers Modelo Especial and Dos Equis Especial, and Blue Moon Belgian White Ale.

Amid all the "societal uncertainty," said Budweiser vice president Monica Rustgi, "we’ve noticed consumers gravitating to larger brands with consistent quality credentials that they know and trust.”

Consumers are buying in bulk, with sales of cases of beer on the rise. Sales of 24-can cases of Michelob Ultra are up 59% so far this year, while sales of Miller Lite cases are up 26.5%. Sales of 30-packs of Busch Light are up 31%, while Coors Light and Bud Light 30-packs are up 31% and 24%, respectively.

"We believe some of that is people were going out less so they were getting more in less frequent trips, opting for 24, 30 and 36-packs of big trusted brands," said Adam Collins, chief communications officer for Molson Coors. "We have seen a lot of that movement particularly in Miller Lite, Coors Light and Blue Moon."

Coors Light’s new sunglasses-themed cans and packages debuted feature its new logo: an avatar of a mountain that appears above the traditional Coors Light script. Already, Coors Light sales have risen 7.5% in dollar value so far this year.

The beer crush is similar to the "panic pantry buying" seen in March at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak. But many experts thought the beer run would slow down in late April and early May, says Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer's Insights. "It did not. Indeed, there was a big pop in the week run-up to Cinco do Mayo," he said. "Virtually every major brewer and big brand has benefited."

Brewers traditionally generate just more than half of beer revenue at bars and restaurants. They sell more beer in stores, but remember, that individual can, bottle or draft can cost $4 or more in a bar or restaurant, while when you buy in bulk it costs 72 cents to $1.30) That's why the shutdown has disproportionately hurt smaller, local breweries that rely on visitors coming into a taproom or brewpub.

The current beer brew-haha would need to continue for most of the year and be greater than 20% clip to offset the loss of on-premise sales, says Carolyn Lemoine, director of alcohol research for Beverage Marketing Corp., a New York City-based research and consulting firm. "Ultimately, dollar sales for the category are likely to be down when the crisis is over, as consumers spend less on beer in the off-premise than they do in the on-premise," she said.

Other boozy beverages cashing in during the coronavirus crisis:

•Spirits. The hard stuff has not been a hard sell, with sales up 29% in the period between March 8 and May 10, and up 55%. Premixed cocktails and tequila lead the way, up 149% and 106%, respectively, in the week that ended May 10.

•Seltzers. America's love affair with thirst-quenching hard seltzers continues to grow. The market leader White Claw saw sales of its mango-flavored beverage skyrocket 700%, so far this year. And its 12-can variety packs, first sold in June 2017, were up 375%.

•Craft beer. In general, consumers are trading down to lower-priced beers and are buying less craft beer, Lemoine says. But New Belgium Brewing beers rose 42%, while Sierra Nevada Brewing was up 32%. Samuel Adams Boston Lager beers rose more than 9% and 60 Minute IPA, a beer from Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, acquired a year ago by Sam Adams' parent company Boston Beer, was up more than 6%.

"At first, our drinkers stocked up on our beers along with everything else," said Jim Koch, founder and chairman of Boston Beer Company. "That growth continued as people found more occasions to enjoy beer at home."

Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.


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