Beer sales were lackluster in 2011, with the latest estimates showing U.S. shipments at their lowest levels since 2003 as major brewers such as Anheuser-Busch and Heineken USA experienced downturns.
Worldwide, suds shipments were down 2.9 million barrels, or 1.4%, from 2010, according to the latest newsletter from trade publication Beer Marketer's Insights.
Although the plunge in volume wasn't huge, the industry should take it seriously, the publication said.
"Big brewers need to regain drinking occasions taken by spirits over the last decade, especially among Millennials," the group wrote in a recent blog post. "Consumers continue to face [a] plethora of new beverage choices."
Top-ranked Anheuser-Busch InBev — which owns Budweiser, Michelob, Beck's and other brands — saw shipments slip 2.9 million barrels, or 2.9%, to 98.8 million barrels. That's the first time the company, which is attempting to innovate with new brands such as Bud Light Platinum, has shipped less than 100 million barrels in a decade.
MillerCoors saw shipments fall 3% to less than 60 million barrels.
Both companies also lost market share in 2011, with Anheuser-Busch down 0.7 of a percentage point to 47% and MillerCoors down 0.4 of a percentage point to 28.4%.
Heineken USA's shipments declined 3.9% while Diageo/Guinness USA dropped 2.4%.
Some companies, however, were on the upswing. Pabst Brewing Co.'s shipments were up 0.4% in the company's first boost since it purchased Stroh Brewery Co. in 1999.
Small brewer D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. of Pottsville, Pa., was up 16.9%. Samuel Adams owner Boston Beer Co. scored an 8% increase.
Alcohol sales in bars and restaurants are expected to rise this year, according to research group Technomic Inc. The wine sector is projected to have a 3.5% bump over the year, while beer sales will probably see a 2.2% increase, especially as craft brews become more popular.