Emerging industry data suggests changing behavior in drinkers nationwide this summer amid rising inflation costs and an uptick in alcohol prices, as more consumers adjust their spending habits. The June Beer Purchasers’ Index, published by the National Beer Wholesalers Association, tracks a year-over-year decrease in nearly every beer category except for one — below premium beers:

Continued inflationary pressures, extreme heat, rising interest rates and recession fears, coupled with slower-than-expected sales in May, bring the industry to a pause after five months of positive ordering trends

Over the past decade, premiumization among consumers — or, trading up to a higher price point category — has steadily grown. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers reached for premium beverages in the wine, spirits, and beer categories. The phenomenon has been particularly apparent in tequila-based RTD cocktails, as consumers reach for the counterpart to seltzers.

Sub-premium beers — such as Keystone Light, Miller High Life and Milwaukee’s Best — were the only category to show growth year over year in June. The index for imports, craft, premium lights, premium regular, seltzers and ciders all fell compared to this time in 2021.

Busch Light has grown significantly in the past weeks, earning a spot as one of the top three volume share gainers in their category. While the brand’s popularity isn’t surprising, as it hasn’t had a down year since 2019, Busch is now the second fastest-growing beer brand among top ten brands in recent scan data per Beer Business Daily (paywall).

On the spirits side, sales seem to be slowing down for moderately-priced spirits. From March to June, those brands in the $10 to $29 price range, while spirits under $10 increased in market share, the RBC maintains in a recent report. The report states:

“Recent trends within spirits would suggest instances of trade down are already occurring. At the start of 2020 and into early ’21, the $30-$74 price tier outperformed, gaining ~250 bps of volume share Y/Y as consumers were flush with cash, received stimulus, and drank at home.

Share gains in the price tier came largely at the expense of the sub $10 price tier which lost ~150 bps of share over the same time.

However, the sub $10 tier flipped to share gains in early 2021 and has seen an acceleration in share gains starting in early March’22, consistent with rising gas prices and inflationary pressures.

Under $10 share gains accelerated from +40 bps in Feb’22 to +170 bps in March-June. Share gains in this segment coincided with further declines in the $10-$29 price tier. The $30-$74 price tier’s gains have moderated from 2020 levels but continue to see healthy overall share gains into 2022.”

On the luxury end, brands are enjoying growth through the first quarter, as the Distilled Spirits Council shares. While this is optimistic news for spirits brands retailing for $50 or more, we have yet to see more updated data on how sales are impacted in the second quarter.

So is the era of premiumization finally coming to an end? Rapidly rising inflation, blisteringly hot summer weather, and economic uncertainty seem to be behind a shift in several important datasets. Taken as a whole, some consumers appear to be trading down, but these markers aren’t written in stone. As we saw in the early pantry-loading days of pandemic lockdowns, major changes can quickly take a U-turn. If we continue to see data in this direction from consumers and brands, however, we do need to seriously consider if we’re entering a new era.