4 Reasons to Execute a Seasonal Beer Program

Seasonal beers have been a driver of new drinkers, excitement, and innovation in the craft beer segment for 25 years. 2017 was a tough year for some brands and beer segments, leading some to believe that seasonal beers don’t have the status or importance they once had. Yet even with these challenges, seasonals offer sales opportunities that other beer styles can’t. Here are four reasons to continue focusing on the seasonal business along with best practices to get the most out of your seasonal program.

1. Seasonals are big!

IRI Style Dollar Sales  Dollar Sales Chg vs YA  Dollar Sales % Chg vs YA
Light Beer $15,143,498,551 -$100,855,733 -0.7%
Other Pale Lagers $11,100,086,167 $287,343,893 2.7%
FMB $2,082,497,745 -$105,937,412 -4.8%
IPA $1,265,516,782 $166,830,093 15.2%
Seasonal $581,799,620 -$29,204,945 -4.8%
Fruit/Veggie/Spiced $477,368,291 -$11,174,309 -2.3%
Belgian Wits $401,868,631 $8,353,564 2.1%
Cider $393,910,390 -$15,139,044 -3.7%
Pale Ale $326,496,490 $5,617,602 1.8%
Variety $313,162,087 -$9,102,116 -2.8%
Source: IRI, MULO + Conv Latest 52 Weeks Thru 11/19/2017

According to IRI data through November 19, seasonals are the No. 5 beer style segment and the No. 2 craft segment. While they are down 4.8% in volume overall, seasonals are showing positive on-premises trends and are outpacing IPA growth on a rolling 52-week basis, according to Nielsen/CGA data. Additionally, the segment is large, established, and contributes significant dollars and cases to the overall beer category. The proliferation and longevity of seasonals in the market indicate that the style has staying power and will survive the less sustainable short-term growth bursts that some other craft sub-segments experience.

2. Seasonals are highly anticipated

While weather changes might not indicate changing seasons everywhere in the country, marketing does. Customers have been trained to anticipate and make purchasing decisions based on the changing seasons regardless of what they’re buying. From soap to coffee, seasonality is impossible to ignore—so it’s only natural that seasonals are inherent in beer, too. Drinkers, as well as wholesalers and retailers, anticipate certain ingredients and styles at specific times of the year, and look forward to new takes on those styles, giving brewers the leeway to experiment and innovate. Additionally, since seasonal products are widely understood, they are more approachable to less frequent or non-craft drinkers. This makes them an easy point of entry for new or lapsed craft drinkers. More and more, drinkers are making purchase decisions based on occasions, and seasonal beers have clearly defined and universally recognized occasions that make them an easy choice among the vast number of options.

3.  Seasonals offer something new

Fall Seasonal BeersToday’s drinkers are fascinated with new beers. Newness can, at times, trump style or brand at the point of purchase. With so many breweries and beers entering the market every day, “new” has become synonymous with exploration. Seasonals inherently offer new beers on a timeline that, as mentioned previously, is reliable and anticipated. Limited beers, whether in quantity or time in market, also pique drinkers’ interest. Again, seasonals fit the bill. Since customers associate seasonality with limited-time offers, there is urgency and intention in buying them before they’re gone for the year. Breweries can aid in creating demand for seasonals by managing inventory, planning to run through stock, and transitioning to the next style earlier, tapping into drinkers’ anticipation of the season.

4. Seasonals provide a retail hook

With the changing seasons comes a reason to refresh displays and offer new, unique programs. The benefit of these programs is twofold: they give retailers incentive to put displays on the floor throughout the year, and they provide a point of interest and differentiation for shoppers. Seasonal programs that offer retail-tainment help build brand associations, driving connections that in turn keep your brewery’s beers top of mind for drinkers at the point of purchase. This type of merchandising and retail hook supplements the strength of seasonal associations mentioned above.Sam Winter Display

Best Practices for Selling Seasonals

Managing seasonal programs can be difficult and expensive. Discussing options and potential outcomes is key to working well with your distributors and retailers. Here are some best practices to get the most out of your seasonal program.

  • Plan your points of distribution and volume of current trends. Relying solely on the previous year’s numbers runs the risk of missing recent industry or market trends that could impact sales.
  • Get distributor and retailer agreement on distribution and sales goals. Having a mutual understanding of goals avoids miscommunication that could result in too much or too little product in the market.
  • Get agreement on how to manage seasonal transitions. Aligning on considerations such as the time of transition, what to do if inventory goes long (promote, exchange where legal, etc.), and how to manage if it runs out before the next seasonal transition (agreeing which SKU(s) will hold the space) will mitigate potential frustrations and losses in the long run.
  • Announce the launch of an upcoming new seasonal. Seasonals are highly anticipated, but that doesn’t always mean they’re top of mind. Draw attention and drive drinker excitement by announcing the return or introduction of upcoming seasonals before they hit the market to ensure an enthusiastic and successful transition.
  • Decide which seasonal SKUs will be year-round in the account versus in-and-out. The mere availability of certain styles or package types does not necessarily warrant year-round placement.
  • Introduce retailers and drinkers to your new seasonal. There’s no shortage of new or seasonal beers entering the market. Introducing them to retailers and drinkers, telling the beers’ brewing story, and tasting the beers is key to getting trial and acceptance. Even if the seasonal style has been out for a number of years, it will be new to some drinkers and retailers. Waitstaff turns over quickly, so make sure to educate them on your beer. Ensure that new vintages of a reoccurring seasonal can be identified as fresh and new versus last year’s vintage.
  • Don’t get greedy. Inventory left after the peak period of a seasonal will sell at a slower rate, block the incoming seasonal, and leave a bad impression in the distributor and retailer’s memory. Always focus on the end date for your seasonal and be sure to plan samplings, features, and transitions accordingly.
  • When you run out is key.  For in-and-outs, plan on running out of inventory just before the next seasonal arrives. For 24/7 seasonal SKUs, run out as the season changes but make sure the next one is present to take its place. Do your best to never have an empty shelf.

This article was written by the market development committee as part of the BA Insider—a free email publication sent quarterly by the Brewers Association. Each issue covers topics relevant to craft beer distributors.