There have been lots of successful beer debuts in 2019, from Hazy IPAs like Official from Bell's Brewery to tart styles like Dogfish Head Brewery's SuperEIGHT Gose to Alaskan Brewing Company’s crisp and clean Kölsch. But few have made a splash quite like Naturdays.
While it may draw ire from some beer lovers, Natural Light's Naturdays Strawberry Lemonade has experienced one of the year’s most successful launches. The strawberry lemonade-flavored Light Lager sold about 129,000 barrels’ worth of packaged product through July 21, making it one of the top-20 most-bought brands at grocery, convenience, and other stores. Those sales figures are equivalent to what Wisconsin's Stevens Point Brewery produced last year as the 23rd-largest Brewers Association-defined craft brewery in the country.
When the brand was announced earlier this year, it was met with a fair share of mockery. Delish.com said it was a beer "That's Made For People Who Don't Actually Like Beer." BusinessInsider.com wrote it was made because parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev was "determined to win over people who hate the taste of beer."
Now it appears that Naturdays has had the last laugh. The Daily Beast "can't stop drinking" it, Thrillist thinks it’s the "perfect summer beer," and drinkers at this spring’s Missouri Beer Festival overwhelmingly voted for it to win the people's choice award. There’s even a “Naturdays is Life” Facebook group for all things “#sweetbois.”
Whether it's a beer we love to hate—or one we just love—Naturdays has had a noticeable impact on beer sales in 2019. Through July 21, it sold $27.3 million in grocery, convenience, and other stores tracked by IRI, a market research firm that compiles scan data from chain stores. That’s almost as much as the entire Dogfish Head portfolio in the same stores, and more than breweries like Cigar City, New Glarus, and Karbach.
A big part of its success can be attributed to AB InBev’s deep pockets and reach. Naturdays’ marketing—which includes print ads, a NASCAR sponsorship, and influencer videos with retired NFL punter Pat McAfee—has contributed to wider awareness of the brand among beer drinkers. The power of distribution has no doubt helped as well, as the pink, flamingo-adorned cans have appeared in multiple packaging forms across the country.
It's that size and value that give Naturdays a unique and deliberate edge. In an interview with Vox.com, Daniel Blake, senior director of U.S. value brands at Anheuser-Busch, noted that, if drinking-age adults don’t enjoy beer between 21–25, they’re not likely to be beer drinkers later on.
“Two of the reasons why people are turning away from beer that really jumped out to us were price and flavor,” he told the outlet. “Obviously, price isn’t really a barrier to Natty [a 12-pack of Natty Light is typically under $10], but flavor was the interesting one. We wanted to launch this new product to hit on that big barrier.”
Low prices for Natural Light’s products have come to be expected. The value brand plays in the large-volume, lower-cost space, a pivotal area for the many price-sensitive consumers wandering the beer aisle. Retail prices vary from place to place, but a 24-pack of Naturdays for $15.99 looks like a great deal when situated near $11.99 or $12.99 six-packs. As Founders Brewing Company has shown, and as AB InBev has since realized, there’s a lot that can be gained by selling in larger-volume packs.
30-packs of 12oz cans have been the format of choice for Naturdays shoppers, followed by 24-packs. Together, they represent almost two-thirds of the brand’s total volume sold through grocery, convenience, and other stores tracked by IRI.
For Naturdays, that has translated into fast success. As reported by Vox, the brand started so strongly that it was on track to sell three times more than AB InBev expected in 2019. Recent monthly sales figures show that continued uptick during peak beer-buying season.
Naturdays was a top-20 beer the week of July 4, showing a 50% jump in week-to-week IRI volume sales, the largest among domestically produced brands. For comparison, Michelob Ultra (29.1%), Coors Light (22.5%), and Bud Light (21.8%) were the closest in growth.
Sure, it’s been easy to mock a strawberry lemonade beer like Naturdays, but there are plenty of examples of Brewers Association members who have made beers with the same flavor.
Vox has succinctly identified the factors that brought us to this moment: one in which AB InBev doubled-down on marketing, price, and a consumer base who are happy to drink it all up.
“It’s pretty difficult to argue that a can of fake fruit and sugar concocted by the biggest brewery in the world is an objectively superior drink to a precious small-batch sour,” Rebecca Jennings wrote. “But it would be false reporting to say that the product didn’t deliver on its stated job: getting a group of unprecious alcohol drinkers happily buzzed during the day.”
By releasing an extension of a widely known and purchased beer like Natural (“Natty”) Light (a move that’s also popular among craft brewers), AB InBev could be looking to prop up sales for the brand, which is associated with college parties and keg stands. But despite losing almost 5% of sales from 2014–2018, Natty Light is actually up 2.4% in IRI volume in the most recent 52-week period.
Coincidence? Maybe. And at least for now, the strawberry lemonade beer represents just a fraction (5%) of what its parent brand sells in the same stores. But for casual beer drinkers looking for a fruity buzz during the hottest days of the summer, it’s clear that the weekends belong to Naturdays.