Summer Sipping: What Americans are Drinking this Season—and Where

Summer Sipping: What Americans are Drinking this Season—and Where

Summer barbecues and ball games just wouldn’t be the same without a bevy of icy libations to help cool things down. And while baseball and beer are as synonymous as hot dogs and Cracker Jacks, the warmer temperatures do more than just boost traditional brew sales–with opportunities that go beyond just beer. As with many consumer products, seasonality plays a big part in what Americans will be drinking this summer—as well as where they’ll be drinking.

After all, not many people choose to stay hunkered down indoors once the snow and ice melt, and summer excursions are often an opportunity to let loose and enjoy a beverage or two. In fact, 90% of regular drinkers who plan to drink this summer say they will drink outdoors. The most popular outdoor venue for summer drinking? The barbecue. Not surprisingly, 65% of Americans who plan to drink alcohol this summer say they plan to drink at these summer staples. Other popular outdoor settings include picnics, beaches, patios, festivals, pools, sporting events, and concerts.

A recent Nielsen survey conducted by Harris Poll confirmed that the summer has a significant upside for certain beverages. In addition to vendors of traditional ales and lagers, this summer should also be fruitful for retailers selling flavored malt beverages (47% more likely to drink during the summer compared to other times of the year, hard cider (34%), hard sodas, as well as the relatively new hard seltzer segment. Rose’ wines are preferred more during the summer by 20% of regular wine drinkers, but almost 40% by females 21-34.

So what qualities are Americans looking for when they reach for an adult beverage during the summer? Among both men and women, “refreshing” is the top quality by a landslide, at 61% and 64%, respectively. Other qualities, however, have varying appeal across gender lines. On the one hand, qualities like “natural” and “handcrafted” resonate more strongly with men, while traits like “fruity,” “sweet,” “citrusy,” “frozen,” and “bubbly” are more popular attributes among women.

It’s not just what’s included in marketing campaigns or on the packaging that appeals to drinkers, though. In fact, social media is becoming an influencer as well. Recent Nielsen research found that one-fourth of American adults (21+) say that seeing pictures of what other people are drinking on social media often influences what they choose to drink. Among 21-34 year-olds, however, that percentage increases to 45%. Forty-two percent of this demographic also likes to post pictures of their drinks on social media, well above the average of 25% for all drinkers.

Portability and Cold are Key

Summertime drinking also requires extra consideration on the packaging front. Since the weather is hot, consumers are extra keen on the packaging’s ability to keep its beverage cold, and being portable is another top consideration. Portability and the ability to buy the beverage already cold are attributes consumers look for when buying alcoholic beverages in the summer.

Forty-two percent of Americans consider buying their beverages cold highly important, with another 24% saying that it’s at least somewhat important. But cold is just part of the consideration picture: 73% say that packaging options that are easy to carry is important to them. Another 49% say that single-serve packaging is at least somewhat important, while 53% say that environmental friendly packaging is of some importance. And all of these factors are even more highly important to younger Millennial legal-aged drinkers.

This is where cans come into play. Historically the realm soda pop and traditional beers, cans are swiftly becoming a major factor within the craft beer segment–growing at 51.4% on a year-over-year basis in the 52 weeks ended June 18, 2016, and now accounting for 14.3% of total craft beer dollar sales. But craft beer isn’t the only beverage finding a home in these palm-sized aluminum containers.

Indeed, can popularity is now reaching into the wine category, posting explosive 125.2% dollar sales growth during the 52 weeks ended June 18, 2016, with total sales of $14.5 million, up from $6.4 million in the prior year. We’re also seeing several new canned wine entries entering the marketplace, some just ahead of the warmer months. Alternative packaging isn’t new to the wine category, however, as boxed wine (3 liter and under sizes growing at +16.2%) and wines in smaller cartons (e.g., Tetra Paks) (+21.7% growth on dollars in the latest year) already have an established and growing base. They also both offer elements of convenience and portability.

While wines in a can are still relatively small, representing less than 1% of the overall wine market, the potential of this alternative packaging type shouldn’t be minimized: Wines in boxes and cartons of all sizes represent more than 8% of table wine store sales dollars today, and just under 20% of table wine volume.

So as the summer heats up, there’s little doubt that retailers offering a variety of canned craft beers and alternatively packaged wines will be well positioned to quench Americans’ thirsts regardless of where their days take them.


The insights from this article were derived from the following sources:

  • The sales data was derived from Nielsen Scantrack (off premise) for 52 weeks ending June 18, 2016.
  • The Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the U.S. between June 27 and 29, 2016 among 1,975 U.S. adults aged 21+ (1,356 who drink alcohol at least several times a year, “regular drinkers,” and 1,296 who plan to drink alcohol this summer, “summer drinkers”).