Caleb Bryant
Caleb Bryant is a Senior Drink Analyst at Mintel, specializing in changing consumer attitudes, industry news and beverage trends.

As the Super Bowl approaches Americans are stocking up on the essentials: chips and salsa, wings, crudites (for the healthy folks), and of course, alcohol. According to Mintel research on drinking occasions, one-third of consumers aged 22 and older have had an alcoholic beverage at home while watching a sports game and most adults will likely enjoy the game and commercials with a beer.

The ties between beer and sports – especially football – run deep. Four in 10 consumers associate beer with watching a sports game. Decades of ads have solidified the idea that “sports equals beer”. The US alcohol industry in general is defined by beer; Americans drank an estimated 21.5 billion liters of beer in 2018 and beer represents 47% of all alcohol sold both on and off premise.

Beer’s lead is shrinking

While beer is America’s dominant alcoholic drink, expect to see some consumers reach for alternative beverages on gameday. Beer’s concrete association with sports may be starting to show some cracks. Adults are slowly cutting back on beer; per capita consumption fell an estimated 5.2% from 2012 to 2018. According to Mintel research on beer and craft beer, total beer declines are driven primarily by falling consumption of light beer. Although many beer drinkers are reducing their alcohol consumption entirely, some are trading beer for drinks they perceived as more healthful than beer.

Although many beer drinkers are reducing their alcohol consumption entirely, some are trading beer for drinks they perceived as more healthful than beer.

New competition at the big game

Expect to see a lot of hard seltzers at Super Bowl parties this year. Hard seltzers such as White Claw and Truly Spiked & Sparkling are a very small but rapidly growing segment of the alcohol market. Many health-conscious consumers have latched onto these low-carb, low-calorie, easy-drinking flavored malt beverages. Younger adults in particular, have started trading beer for hard seltzers. Consumers aged 25-34 are twice as likely to drink hard seltzers, according to Mintel research on ready to-drink beverages. Big alcohol companies are placing bets on the future potential of hard seltzers, such as AB-InBev’s hard seltzer brand, Bon & Viv will be the first hard seltzer to appear in a Super Bowl ad.

Spirit brands may see an uptick in sales leading up to the Super Bowl. While total US alcohol consumption is falling, spirit consumption is rising with much of the growth occurring among high-end, premium brands. Similar to hard seltzers, many consumers are drinking spirits instead of beer for health reasons. According to Mintel research on white spirits, one-quarter of white spirit drinkers aged 25-34 say spirits are healthier than other alcohol types.

Consumer associations between spirits and football may increase due to changes in NFL ad regulations. In 2017, the NFL dropped its ban on spirit ads during games with Crown Royal becoming the first spirit brand featured in a NFL ad. Mixer brands will inadvertently benefit from growing connections between football and spirits; spirits with a single mixer (eg gin and tonic) is the most common way consumers drink spirits when watching televised sports.

Coming off the heels of Dry January, more consumers may abstain from alcohol entirely this year. Growing interest in health and wellness has led some consumers to reduce their alcohol consumption or stop drinking entirely. According to Mintel research on marketing health to Millennials, one-third of Millennials agree that “a healthy lifestyle is part of who I am.”

What might consumers drink when they’re not drinking during game time? Sparkling water has become a popular alcoholic drink stand in, with one-quarter of sparkling water drinkers that say they have drank sparkling water as a substitute to an alcoholic beverage.

Other sports fans may mix themselves a tasty mocktail. A growing number bars and restaurants are now offering complex mocktails to satisfy both drinkers and alcohol-abstainers. As consumers become more familiar with mocktails, many will make their own at home. Companies are developing new products for mocktail enthusiasts, such as Coca-Cola recently announcing its launch of Bar None, its first brand of ready-to-drink mocktails.

What we think

When it comes to the sports viewing occasion, beer definitely has the home field advantage and that is not going to change. However, changing consumer preferences means beer brands aren’t competing just with each other but a variety of new players such as spiked seltzers, spirits, and even regular sparking water.