FEATURED ARTICLE | Light Beer Remains the Heavyweight Brew

Light beer is big, and it may be getting bigger. While much is said and written about the growth of craft brews and the excitement in high-end Belgians and other imports — and with many operators lavishing attention on both categories — light beer is not giving up market share to these upstarts.

In fact, light beer held 48.7 percent share of the total U.S. beer market in 2008, according to Beverage Marketing Corp., a research firm based in New York City. What’s more, it grew 2.1 percent in 2008, the only category tracked by Beverage Marketing Corp. other than specialty beer to post a gain. Message to profit-seeking bar operators: Ignore light beer at your own peril.

Even those operators running establishments that cater to beer aficionados with more full-bodied brews know they need to carry selections from the lighter side. “Absolutely, people come in and ask for light beers,” says Ryan Dorchak, co-owner of Cloverleaf Tavern in Caldwell, N.J. IPAs and Belgians are current favorites among Cloverleaf’s beer-savvy clientele, but Coors Light and Miller Lite are always on tap and Heineken Premium Light in bottles moves well.

The draw, says Dorchak, is the word “light.” He observes that his light-drinking guests, who are primarily female, are looking to “do themselves a favor by drinking a beer they consider to have less calories.”

“The two hottest trends in light beer are super-low calorie — in particular MGD 64 — and Bud Light Lime,” observes Harry Schuhmacher, editor and publisher of Beer Business Daily. “Both brands have wildly exceeded expectations for their respective brewers and are continuing to grow.”

The two categories of light beers that have disappointed, he says, are craft and import light beers, most notably represented by Sam Adams Light and Heineken Premium Light. While both beers exploded onto the scene with lots of consumer trial, ultimately they faded into the tapestry of their respective flagship brands, according to Schuhmacher. “[Light beer] is definitely something our guests seek,” says Mark Bailey, director of ballpark operations at FOX Sports Grill, a six-location chain of upscale sports restaurants based in Westlake Village, Calif., that has three more locations opening this year. “We sell more light beer in some markets than others, but all markets have a demand for the product. It’s a decision motivated by [interest in] consuming less calories than found in a regular beer. They may have the perception that light beer is healthier, or they can enjoy their beer without putting on the excess weight. Less calories, lighter taste, less filling are key factors when ordering light beer.”

FOX Sports Grill locations satisfy the primarily male guests’ thirst for light brews with Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, Heineken Light, Corona Light and Amstel Light.

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