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Selling More Beer, Less Alcohol: Is Shandy the New Cider?

April, it seems, isn’t too early to kick off shandy season. MillerCoors has already started stocking shelves across the U.S. with its Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy and will sell the lemony beer through August, trying to repeat last year’s successful national debut.

Like hard cider, another fast-growing beverage category, shandy has gained popularity as a fruity alternative beer. Case sales of all Leinenkugel’s products—shandy is its bestseller, but the brand also makes normal beers—rose 34 percent in the year ended March 23, almost double the growth of the craft beer category, according to research firm IRI. Leinenkugel’s calls the craze “shandymonium.”

After launching Summer Shandy in 2007 and recently adding varieties available beyond the summer—the all-year Lemon Berry Shandy and autumn-to-winter Orange Shandy—Leinenkugel’s is now the biggest shandy brand in the U.S., according to MillerCoors. Summer Shandy and Orange Shandy together are the company’s second-fastest-growing brand, after Redd’s Apple Ale.

Mark Rasmussen, spokesman for MillerCoors craft division Tenth & Blake Beer, points out that more craft breweries are coming out with lower-alcohol—or sessionable—beers. “The success of Leinenkugel’s Orange Shandy in the nonsummer months shows that the shandy style has growth potential throughout the year,” he says.

This is an important bright spot for MillerCoors. Sales of light beers, including Coors Light and Miller Lite, are in decline, and the company is moving in the U.S. “toward the high-margin and fast-growing above-premium segment on the strength of Redd’s, Leinenkugel’s, and Blue Moon,” Peter Swinburn, chief executive officer of Molson Coors (TAP), said during a conference call in February.

A report last year by attributes the popularity of shandy to “trends towards moderate drinking, refreshment, female beer drinking, and willingness to try new tastes.” The number of shandy product launches worldwide more than tripled from 2009 to 2012, according to a report by NPR. Among them: Boston Beer’s (SAM) Sam Adams Porch Rocker and Curious Traveler, as well as Anheuser-Busch InBev’s (BUD) Shock Top Lemon Shandy—all released since 2012.

For those tired of light beer, the number of lower-alcohol alternatives continues to grow.

Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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