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Beer sales are soaring. These brands are winning the booze battle

Miller Lite beer sit on a shelf at a grocery store on October 9, 2015 in New York City.
Miller Lite beer sit on a shelf at a grocery store on October 9, 2015 in New York City. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Americans' thirst for alcohol has increased since the coronavirus pandemic began, spreading across the United States in mid-March. That's benefiting beer, a beverage that was once falling out of favor with consumers as they shifted their preferences to low-calorie drinks, including spiked seltzer and spirits.

People are still buying a lot of White Claw, spirits and wine, but home-grown budget beer brands have also spiked in sales over the past two months. In particular, Anheuser-Busch's Busch Light sales have increased 44%, according to inMarket, a data analysis firm. The beer frequently runs witty promotions, including enticing people to adopt dogs during the pandemic and implementing price reductions depending on how much snow has fallen.

Other brands have also recorded double-digit sales increases, including Miller Lite, Michelob Ultra and Natural Light. They all grew between 14% and 17%. Modelo and Miller High Life sales both jumped around 7%. InMarket tracked transactions and purchases made online and in-person between March 1 and April 17, and the sales increases are in comparison to February.

Todd Dipaola, CEO of inMarket, told CNN Business that his firm has seen "a lot changes in consumer behavior" because of the virus, notably the growth of affordable beers that are also light in calories and carbohydrates.

"In a situation where tens of millions of people just got laid off or furloughed, people are definitely thinking about their wallets. A lot of people are buying lite beers because they're not moving around as much, so lower calorie beers make a lot of sense," Dipaola said.

Four of inSight's list of top ten best-selling beers hover around 100 calories, meaning "health is a consideration" he added.

Many of those beers can be bought cheaply in cases. Nielsen recently said that larger packs of 24 or 30 both grew 90% at its peak during the third week of March, once shelter-in-place laws started, compared to a year ago. Prices for a 30-pack of those beers range between $15 for Natural Light to $25 for Michelob Ultra. Busch Light lands in the middle at $18 for a 30-pack.

Nielsen's measurements also showed a boost in budget beer. The category grew nearly 8% from mid-March to mid-April.

Laurent Grandet, an analyst at Guggenheim, recently told CNN Business that budget beer brand sales will benefit from sales in "blue collar regions" affected by economic hardships caused by the pandemic.

He said that domestic beers, like Busch Light, are quicker for stores to replenish and retailers pick larger brands to stock their shelves because they're easier to get. Customers also gravitate toward them because of the familiarity. Nielsen said 69% are buying alcohol brands they know and trust.

Craft beer, which is pricier, isn’t seeing the same increase in sales compared to its cheaper siblings. Around 70% of sales come from the brewer’s taprooms or at bars, which are both currently closed in much of the US, Grandet said.