Stylish Beer Choices: Lead by Style, Boost Beer Sales

Beers in a brewery
Image: MaxyM / Shutterstock

Why is it better to have more styles of beer for your customers? One reason: Consumers who drink more styles are proven to drink more beer.

During the VIBE Conference 2020 session “Leading by Styles: Unlocking Growth in the Beer Category,” Sara Hillstrom, Anheuser-Busch InBev Senior Director of Category Development will explore the breadth of beer styles available and map them to the right consumer taste preferences and occasions. Unlock growth for your beer category and uncover enormous trade up opportunities through the occasion-based, lead-by-style viewpoint.

Hillstrom works closely with retailers to highlight how beer and alcohol consumption is evolving and develop strategies to capitalize on future pools of growth. She spoke with us to share some insights into her session and beer styles.

VIBE: Let’s start with what you mean by the title of your presentation. What is the benefit of leading by styles of beer?

Sara Hillstrom: The concept is actually relatively simple—it’s the idea that when people drink more styles of beer, they actually drink more beer. If I segment consumers by how many styles of beer are in their repertoire—and I’m really talking about the big ones—lager, IPA, pale ale, wheat, stout and porter—and if we look at someone who drinks only one style, typically light lager, they drink less beer and they spend less money annually on beer than someone who has five styles in their repertoire.

We’ve done some work on why that would be and what we’ve found is that different styles of beer meet people in different moments, which is true of all alcohol and total beverage.

VIBE: How does that function in the way we consume beer?

Hillstrom: Well, outside bars and restaurants, perhaps think of a day at the beach and it’s a hot day filled with activity; your drink choice is based on a set of needs, functional and emotional, so you need something cold, refreshing and thirst quenching. That’s great for water, a light lager, a seltzer, perhaps. But after a day of skiing seated near a fireplace, we have different needs. We might want something richer and warming, more indulgent like a hot chocolate or a stout or a whiskey. The drinks by the fireplace don’t work on the beach, and what we’ve found is that there are so many drinking occasions and consumer needs that it’s a bit of a Rubik’s Cube. For people who know one or two styles of beers, they’re not going to have the drink of choice the way people who have a broader repertoire have a beer in every moment.

VIBE: How does that play out on-premise?

Hillstrom: Think about the difference between brunch versus a meal together with friends versus post-meal dessert. If you only know light lager, you might choose it for all three occasions but not everyone would want that. In fact, most beer drinkers wouldn’t. At brunch, they might choose a michelada, for dinner maybe a classic lager, and for dessert, you might choose a porter instead of the chocolate cake.

VIBE: So, what sort of recommendations do you make for operators today?

Hillstrom: Well, definitely everybody is going to want a light lager and a regular lager because they are still a huge chunk of the category, plus the low-cal lager like Michelob Ultra or Corona Premier—that’s going to satisfy the bulk of volume and consumer preference. Then you’re going to want the leading IPA and leading wheat beer, and if you cover those styles, that’s the basic assortment on draft, and if you want to go deeper in styles that’s when you turn to package. If you want to be more beer-forward and known for selection, you’ll probably want multiple IPAs at different price points as well as locals, maybe the leading national, the leading local and a double IPA.

Ready to brew up profitable beer program changes? VIBE Conference 2020 is right around the corner, so make sure you register today and add this session to your calendar. See you in San Diego soon!

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