When Shawn Jones, the beer buyer at Boone’s Wine & Spirits in Eagle, Colorado, noticed that his customers were quick to take a chance on beer variety packs (12-packs, priced between $19-$23), he moved them from warm displays to three or four doors in the store’s beer coolers.
“They’re really selling well now,” he says. “Variety packs can be pain-free shopping if you’re buying for a group and don’t know the local brands. People are more willing to try a new beer when it’s presented as part of a variety pack.”
Variety packs, which first emerged as popular options during the early days of the craft beer boom, appear to be experiencing a resurgence. According to Nielsen IQ, variety packs outperformed off-premise sales of beer in both 2020 and 2021. And for some breweries, variety packs have been key. Bill Manley, vice president of beer development at Minnesota’s Surly Brewing Co., says the brewery’s seasonal variety packs are its second best-selling package after the flagship Furious IPA.
In recent years, targeted efforts by brewers have helped propel sales of the mixed packs. “Canned variety packs have taken over from bottles,” notes Mikey O’Brien, beer manager at High Spirits Liquors in Providence, Rhode Island, which stocks about two dozen variety packs, priced between $16 and $20. He adds that variety packs focused on a singular style, such as IPAs, have also proven very popular.
Variety packs featuring an exclusive brew have emerged as successful tactics to encourage purchases, retailers and brewers say. “Consumers are of two minds when it comes to variety packs,” notes Aaron Baker, senior marketing manager at Oskar Blues Brewery, which often drops exclusives in its mixed packs. “They want beers with which they’re familiar, but they’re also interested in trying new beers. Placing an ‘Easter egg’ in a pack gives it a little boost of interest, and it’s fun to introduce new, innovative beers in this way.”
Manley at Surly, which also includes exclusive brews in its variety packs, agrees. “The exclusivity can lead to consumer anticipation,” he says, pointing to labels like Grindcore espresso milk stout, which was featured in the brewery’s Mixed Messages variety pack last year. Drew Bolinger, beer department member at Macadoodles liquor store in Pineville, Missouri, says some variety pack exclusives have received such a strong response that “customers come in looking for individual packages of those beers.”
And then there are the unexpected mixed-pack collections that stop beer shoppers in their tracks. Last year Oskar Blues unveiled the tiki-inspired Canspiracy variety pack, which included both brews and hard seltzers from the Colorado brewery. “At Oskar Blues, we’re constantly looking to push the boundaries with innovative packaging ideas,” Baker says, noting that the company’s most recent variety pack, The Works, features a mix of “crushable” beers, along with higher-abv imperial IPAs. Anheuser-Busch InBev (A-B InBev), meanwhile, introduced the 24 Craft Beers of Cheer, a case pack of unique beers in 13 different styles from seven of the company’s craft breweries, last year. “We saw a lot of positive feedback on social media,” says Andy Thomas, president of A-B InBev’s Brewers Collective.
In addition to the opportunity to sample new beers, variety packs are perfect options for consumers when making beer purchases for parties and other gatherings, notes Manley. “For retailers, a single SKU with several varieties is a great way to expand the beer variety they offer,” the Surly executive says. On the flip side, the mixed packs can take up valuable real estate in the beer department. “The biggest challenge with variety packs is space,” says Sisco Larson, general manager at Joe’s Wine & Liquor in Nashville, where mixed packs range from $20-$39. “If you’re already selling four SKUs of a brand, it can be hard to add a variety pack,” he explains. “But if it sells, it’s worth it.”
Larson and other retailers expect variety packs to remain innovative options for beer shoppers. “They can buy two variety packs, rather than one case of the same beer, and make everyone happy,” he says. “That can be an easy decision.”