Hard Seltzers Drove Growth in Difficult Year, According to 2021

Overall beer consumption grew slightly, with total volume increasing 0.8% to 2.83 billion 2.25-gallon cases in 2020, according to Beverage Information Group’s 2021 Beer Handbook.

This marks the second year of slight growth after six consecutive years of declines in total beer consumption, primarily due to the incredibly popular trend of hard seltzers.

On-premise closures due to the Covid-19 Pandemic especially affected the craft beer industry. After a few years of mature growth, the category posted an 8.6% loss in 2020 to 305 million cases, dropping the category’s market share to 10.8%.

The imported beer category has grown 3.3% on average in the past five years, with Mexican brews largely driving consumption. Modelo, now the number one imported brand, increased 11.5% in 2020 to 143 million cases. After moving to second place in 2019, Corona fell 1.5% in 2020, however, new brand extension Corona Premier experienced impressive growth levels of 20.0% to 11 million cases.

The main story is Flavored Malt Beverages (FMBs), up an incredible 68.1% in 2020 to 306 million 2.25-gallon cases. This is thanks largely to the RTD boom. Hard seltzer brands are paving the way in this category, increasing by 152.9% with an overall 7.2% market share. That’s the highest increase for any part of the overall-sagging beer market. The FMB category also includes coolers and hard sodas.

Barely even a category five or six years ago, hard seltzer is now one of the fastest-growing segments of the alcohol industry and for the first time the Beverage Information Group’s 2021 Beer Handbook is tracking hard seltzer as its own sub-category.


As far as other categories, light beer continues to shrink, down 2.9% in 2020, to 1.13 billion 2.25-gallon cases. Still, light beer represented 40.0% of the overall U.S. beer market in 2020. The popular beer category continues its steady decline for the last eleven years with a loss of 6.2% in 2020.

The ice beer category declined by 10.0% to 67.19 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2020, while malt liquor beer decreased by 9.4% to 43.60 million 2.25-gallon cases in 2020. Malt liquor continues to be hurt by the increasing trend of premiumization in the craft- and imported-beer categories. What’s more, the distilled spirits industry–notably brandy/Cognac, vodka and tequila brands—have been pursuing malt liquor’s main demographic.

The Beverage Information Group’s 2021 Beer Handbook is the most comprehensive source of information on U.S. beer industry sales trends. It includes consumption and projection information by category and by market, tracks leading brands and reports historical data. The publication can be purchased at bevinfostore.com.

Feature photo by Camden & Hailey George on Unsplash.

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