When it comes to beer trends, Tyrell Gaffer projects more of the same—and then some—this summer at his Casanova Liquor store in Hudson, Wisconsin. “Last year, we saw a number of fruit-inspired beers arrive, and so far this year, it seems to be continuing,” Gaffer says.
On-premise operators concur. Fruit-enhanced brews are selling well at Republic beer bar in Minneapolis, according to co-owner Matty O’Reilly. “It’s become a pretty popular category.” While the venue typically includes a few fruit-influenced beers among its 70-draft beer offerings ($5 to $8 a 16-ounce pour) year-round, it offers as many as eight different fruit beers once warmer weather rolls around.
At Stout pub in Seattle, Breakside Passionfruit Sour ($21 a 22-ounce bottle) is among the fruity brews available. “Consumers are moving toward fruit-forward palates,” says manager Krista Maes.
The Boston Beer Co. introduced Samuel Adams Rebel Grapefruit IPA on draft in late 2015 and in bottles and cans in January 2016. “In the last two years, a number of breweries have released fruit IPAs, which have raised drinker awareness,” says director of off-premise national accounts George Ward. “We believe there is strong consumer interest.” Indeed, according to Nielsen off-premise data for craft beer, for the 52 weeks ended December 31st, 2016, fruit-infused offerings accounted for more than 75 percent of all flavored IPA sales. Grapefruit-enhanced craft IPAs surged 149 percent during the period, Nielsen reports, while tangerine-, pineapple- and mango-flavored craft IPAs skyrocketed at even faster rates on smaller bases.
Riding The Grapefruit Wave
Ballast Point Brewing Co.’s Grapefruit Sculpin IPA has been a hit since it was first launched on draft in its San Diego tasting room in 2013. A line extension to Sculpin IPA, the grapefruit version is now available in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles and cans for around $14.99, and it’s emerged as one of Ballast Point’s most popular brews. “Grapefruit is a great bridge flavor,” says vice president of marketing Hilary Cocalis. “When done right, grapefruit enhances the beer rather than overwhelming it.” While Grapefruit Sculpin tastes like an IPA, a slight hint of citrus also “makes it feel like a refreshing summer beer,” Cocalis notes, adding that the brew is popular year-round.
It’s likely the popularity of Grapefruit Sculpin has contributed to the launch of grapefruit-influenced beers from Boston Beer and other marketers. “Consumers appreciate the refreshing flavor and like the unexpected tartness that grapefruit brings to the flavor mix,” explains Jake Kirsch, vice president of the Shock Top brand at Anheuser-Busch InBev (A-B InBev). This spring, A-B InBev launched the new grapefruit-infused seasonal Shock Top Ruby Fresh. Other citrus-inspired brews are also receiving warm responses from consumers. Fort Collins, Colorado–based New Belgium Brewing Co. shipped nearly 130,000 (31-gallon) barrels of Citradelic Tangerine IPA last year, exceeding the brewery’s sales forecast. Citradelic is available in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles, 12-packs of 12-counce cans and on draft. Chico, California–based Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. recently expanded its offerings with Sidecar orange pale ale and Tropical Torpedo IPA—featuring mango, papaya and passion fruit—and Boston Beer launched Rebel Juiced IPA, a mango-infused West Coast IPA, earlier this year.
In addition, Stone Brewing Co. unveiled Stone Tangerine Express IPA—brewed with whole tangerine purée and whole pineapples—in 22-ounce bottles earlier this year for year-round distribution. Tangerine Express was created in collaboration with Jake Karley, director of beverages at PJW Restaurant Group in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, for last year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Philadelphia. “We wanted to incorporate fruit into an IPA, and the use of tangerine with a hint of pineapple at the finish emerged as the favorite,” Karley explains.
Balancing The Hops
It’s not entirely a surprise that fruit is appearing in beer. In general, fruit enhances hops flavors, and with the increasing popularity of hoppy IPAs, the addition of fruit is a natural development. Casanova’s Gaffer says that fruits—particularly grapefruit—play off the flavors in more floral, juicy hops like Citra and Mosaic. Fruit-forward beers, as compared to hoppy brews, tend to be “more approachable for consumers,” he explains. His store stocks about 15 different fruit-influenced IPAs, priced between $8.99 and $10.99 a six-pack. Karley of PJW says that fruit “nicely enhances the tropical hops that are increasingly appearing in IPAs.” Beer offerings at PJW’s 19 restaurants, which include the Pour House concept, typically include one fruit-influenced IPA on draft, priced at $6 to $7.50 (pour size varies).
But IPA isn’t the only beer style that’s being enhanced by fruit. Flavored malt beverages and hard sodas aside, more mainstream brews marketed by the likes of A-B InBev and MillerCoors are seeing influences from the fruit bowl. Leinenkugel’s Grapefruit Shandy, marketed by MillerCoors, sold nearly 250,000 (2.25-gallon) cases in 2015, its first year on the market, according to Impact Databank.
“When we first began offering Grapefruit Shandy, it was inspired in part by the increasing interest in the grapefruit beer market,” says MillerCoors manager of media relations Marty Maloney. “It performed extremely well at the time, and since making Grapefruit Shandy available year round in 2016, it continues to grow and outperform the competition.” This summer, support for Leinenkugel’s Grapefruit Shandy and Summer Shandy will be tied to the brand’s 150th anniversary, driving consumer awareness and trial. The campaign will include new commercials, outdoor and digital media, as well as a packaging refresh. The brand will also mark “Leinie’s Longest Friday” on June 23rd with promotions at bars and restaurants across the country.
The seasonal Shock Top Lemon Shandy will return this month in six-packs of 12-ounce bottles and remain available through August, according to A-B InBev’s Kirsch. First launched in 2013, Lemon Shandy has been one of Shock Top’s most successful flavors, according to Kirsch. The Shock Top line has also received a packaging refresh this year, along with a new advertising campaign targeting younger legal-drinking-age adults.
Another MillerCoors brand, the Redd’s Apple ale line, was recently expanded with two year-round flavors—Blueberry and Raspberry—in six- and 12-packs of 12-ounce bottles and 16-ounce cans. A new ad campaign recently launched for Redd’s, while updated packaging will be unveiled this month. The Redd’s Taco Truck, meanwhile, will make 80 sampling stops this summer, according to Maloney.
Widening The Base
Beer marketers and retailers agree that one of the overriding benefits to the proliferation of fruit-inspired beers is that it has helped to expand the base of craft beer and IPA consumers. “Expanding the definition of what craft beer can be—outside of more and more IPAs—helps bring new drinkers to the category and broadens the tent,” notes New Belgium public relations director Bryan Simpson.
Indeed, several retailers say that fruit-flavored craft brews are increasingly appealing to mainstream beer drinkers. “The grapefruit in grapefruit IPAs helps to counteract some of the hoppiness in IPAs that consumers don’t like,” says Tim Consadine, general manager at the Boone’s Wine & Spirits shop in Eagle, Colorado. The store stocks about 20 different fruit-influenced beers, priced from $9.99 to $14.99 a six-pack.
“Bitter-sensitive consumers will order an IPA now,” says PJW’s Karley. “I’ve even seen Blue Moon consumers who are used to the orange in their beer gravitate toward citrus-enhanced IPAs.”
While fruit-infused brews may be giving consumers courage to try new products, beer marketers note that it’s important for retailers to monitor what labels are selling and the proper brand mix for their establishments. “Build the audience and be patient,” Simpson says. “Having a rotator handle or two makes plenty of sense, but if your entire draft system is constantly in flux, it can be stultifying.” MillerCoors’ Maloney agrees. “Fads come and go, so retailers should focus on brands that have staying power,” he explains. “Flavor innovation drives trial, but new flavors under the umbrella of a master brand with incredible awareness will drive higher velocities and more productive SKUs.”
Marketers and retailers believe that while fruit-influenced beers perform best in warm-weather months, there’s plenty of opportunity for the brews year-round. Maloney cites Leinenkugel’s Grapefruit Shandy, which was first launched as a summer brew. “Our drinkers let us know that they wanted to enjoy it throughout the year,” he explains. “So we’ve kept brewing it.” New Belgium’s Simpson concurs. “We believe fruit beers have a place at the table all year long,” he adds.
While fruit-influenced brews may be the industry’s latest craze, many believe they have staying power. “They’re not going away anytime soon,” says Republic’s O’Reilly. “When these types of beers are of good quality, they’ll stand the test of time.” Marketers note that the brews satisfy consumer demand for new and innovative products. “Craft beer is built on innovation, so you’ll continue to see people push the envelope in all directions,” Simpson says. “Fruit is a brave new world to explore.”