Sales of fall favorites Oktoberfest and pumpkin beer remain steadfast at the retail tier in the face of increasing competition from other beverage alcohol categories, such as spirits-based RTDs. “Oktoberfest beers are the most anticipated seasonal beer release of the year,” says Jason Hollander, beer manager of Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, Massachusetts. “As seasonal beers overall seem to be down, Oktoberfest and fall seasonal brews are trending much better.”
To celebrate the beginning of the autumn season and drive sales, Julio’s is hosting a Fall Beer Fest on October 7, focusing on Oktoberfest and other fall beers. About 25 breweries will be in-store for the event to showcase their beers. Julio’s uses its weekly newsletter to highlight Oktoberfest beers. Retail displays, including seasonal beer shelves, draw customer attention.
Looking to sharpen the focus on quality over quantity, Julio’s is streamlining its Oktoberfest selections, with about 30-35 Oktoberfest SKUs in stock. “This is fewer than last year, even though there are more SKUs available this year,” Hollander says. “We decided to focus on driving sales and volume into fewer SKUs, rather than spreading those sales out.”
At Julio’s, domestic Oktoberfest beers lead sales, and the number of offerings are increasing. Traditional German offerings, however, retain a loyal following. “American Oktoberfest beers tend to be bigger and sweeter, more in the Märzen style,” Hollander explains. “We have seen more American Oktoberfest beers this year than years past. The American brands sell better, although there is a smaller but very passionate customer base looking for the German beers.”
Top-selling Oktoberfest beers at Julio’s include regional brands like Vermont-based Zero Gravity ($16 a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans) and Indiana’s 3 Floyd’s ($12 a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles), along with the Massachusetts-made brands Jack’s Abby ($17 a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans), Notch ($14 a four-pack of 16-ounce cans), and Aeronaut ($15 a four-pack of 16-ounce cans). German import Ayinger ($13 a four-pack of 16.9-ounce cans) has also been experiencing strong sales.
In New England, pumpkin beer remains popular, and Shipyard Pumpkinhead ($19 a 12-pack of 12-ounce bottles) leads the charge at Julio’s. “We incorporate pumpkin brews into our fall beer displays as well as our shelf sets,” Hollander says. “They will be featured at our Fall Beer Fest as well. We tend to treat Oktoberfest and pumpkin beers the same way. The good thing about pumpkin beers is their selling season lasts longer, usually through Thanksgiving.”
Shipyard’s Two Roads Roadsmary’s Baby ($19 a 12-pack of 12-ounce cans) and Southern Tier Pumking ($15 a four-pack of 12-ounce bottles) are popular with Julio’s customers. Local beers like Greater Good Imperial Giant Pumpkin ale ($17 a 4-pack of 16-ounce cans), Cold Harbor Pumpkin Path amber ale ($15 a four-pack of 16-ounce cans), and Exhibit A Cake! beer ($15 a four-pack of 16-ounce cans) also sell well at Julio’s.
Despite the hype around Oktoberfest and pumpkin beers, IPAs sales at Julio’s also remain steady throughout the autumn season. “They have such a loyal base that it’s difficult to get the diehard IPA drinker to try something else,” Hollander says.
At Sal’s Beverage World, a three-unit retailer in the Chicago suburbs, displays of Oktoberfest and other fall beers in the front of the registers help drive sales and encourage consumer impulse purchases. “Oktoberfest or Märzen is my favorite style of beer,” says owner Vince Liotta. “Oktoberfest is a very important time of year for Sal’s Beverage World.”
Each Sal’s store, with locations in Addison, Elmhurst, and Villa Park, Illinois, is carries approximately 40 Oktoberfest beers. German import Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest ($15 a 12-pack of 12-ounce bottles) and domestic brand Sam Adams Oktoberfest ($13 a 12-pack of bottles) lead Oktoberfest beer sales at Sal’s. “Most German Oktoberfest beers are not as malty as the American Oktoberfest beers,” Liotta says. “The Germans also tend to show a lightness, but it really depends on which brewery you are tasting.”
Although pumpkin beer sales may have peaked a couple of years ago at Sal’s, the seasonal style still has a strong following during the autumn season. “Over the last couple of years, sales of pumpkin beers have fallen, having peaked about three or four years ago,” Liotta says. “Schlafly Pumpkin ale ($12 a 6 pack of 12-ounce bottles) and Big Muddy Pumpkin Smasher ($12 a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles) are our biggest sellers.”
Overall, Oktoberfest beer sales are performing well at Sal’s, particularly compared to domestic premium beers. However, unlike trends at Julio’s in Massachusetts, IPAs fall off a little bit in the fall at Sal’s. “People tend to move toward beers that have malty characteristics and sales of other beer styles like stouts and porters always pick up this time of year,” Liotta says.
With the daylight and temperatures continuing to diminish daily in North America during the autumn season, beer consumers increasingly reach for heartier brews. In Massachusetts, Oktoberfest and seasonal beer sales are expected to remain steady leading up to Thanksgiving. “We anticipate sales of fall beers to be similar to last year,” Hollander says. “They seem to be the one seasonal beer staying steady.”