Chicago’s Revolution Brewing ended 2019 as the top-selling craft brand family in Illinois off-premise retailers, according to market research firm IRI.
The distinction was the product of a war of attrition in the state, where craft dollar sales declined 9% in off-premise retailers, the firm reported. As such dollar sales of each of the top seven brand families declined last year.
Nevertheless, Revolution narrowly edged the United States’ top-selling craft brand, Molson Coors’ Blue Moon, as well as Leinenkugel’s, which is also owned by Molson Coors, Anheuser-Busch’s Goose Island, Heineken’s Lagunitas and Boston Beer Company’s Samuel Adams.
Although Revolution’s off-premise dollar sales in Illinois declined $288,406, to nearly $12.2 million, the company still managed to gain market share, giving it a 10.4% share of the Illinois craft beer market last year.
“Even though we were down slightly, we picked up seven tenths of a point of market share,” Revolution Brewing chief financial officer Doug Veliky said. “It was not us surging. We’re pretty, pretty big here in Illinois, and we have amazing distribution. And there’s only so much more distro-wise for us to gain, but we’ve been able to kind of maintain that in what’s been a scary time for craft to be down 9%.”
As for Illinois’ other top-selling brands, each saw their dollar sales erode by at least $1 million, with Leinenkugel’s suffering the steepest decline at more than $3.3 million.
Nevertheless, Revolution’s year-over-year volume declined about 4,000 barrels to 81,000 last year, which Veliky attributed to “a combination of the draft market and our far away from home markets.”
“But our off-premise has been very strong and especially strong here locally,” he added.
Although Revolution sells beer in nine states, 82% of its volume is sold in Illinois.
“We’re very heavily concentrated on home,” Veliky said. “And then if you count Milwaukee and northern Indiana, and a little bit of southeastern Michigan, which is like 90 miles away, if you add those, we’re talking over 90% of our business.”
2019 was also a year of big internal change for Revolution. In November, the company parted ways with long-time chief commercial officer Donn Bichsel Jr., who has since launched 3 Tier Beverages, a Chicago-based sales and marketing consulting firm.
Unifying The Hero Family of Brands
Helping Revolution’s climb in Illinois craft was its Hero family of brands, which make up two-thirds of the company’s sales. Those brands include flagship Anti-Hero IPA, which accounts for half of Revolution’s total business, Hazy-Hero, Every Day-Hero and the League of Heroes variety pack.
For 2020, Revolution is revisiting the messaging behind the Hero brands in an effort to “better unite them as a family of brands for different occasions and experiences,” Veliky said. That effort includes wrapping wholesaler trucks and purchasing billboard space.
“We’ve always looked at them as different year-round beers, and we’re bringing them together to make our messaging and communications around them a little easier, a little more straightforward,” he added.
Anti-Hero was the top-selling craft SKU in Illinois last year, as well as the top-selling single-serve craft brand in the state, according to IRI.
Veliky credited Hazy-Hero IPA, Revolution’s juicy New England-style IPA, with helping the company finish strong in 2019. Hazy-Hero, after launching in September, added 2,500 points of distribution within a month. The brand is now on pace to be one of Revolution’s top three brands by the end of 2020.
If Hazy-Hero is to become a top-two brand, it will have to leapfrog Revolution’s League of Heroes variety pack, which is the top-selling variety pack and the No. 1 craft can 12-pack in Illinois, according to IRI.
Part of that push will include the addition of 19.2 oz. single-serve cans of Hazy-Hero and Every Day-Hero, Revolution’s session IPA, both of which Veliky said will be line priced with the company’s existing 19.2 offerings, Anti-Hero and Fist City pale ale. Hazy-Hero 19.2 oz. cans have also gained 450 points of distribution.
In Chicago, where beers are legally allowed to be consumed on the trains from the city to the suburbs during certain times, the 19.2 oz. single-serve offerings have been popular with the commuter crowd, Veliky said.
“It’s just like a ritual that so many people grab a 19.2 can in Chicago on their train ride back home, especially on Fridays,” he said. “And then same with people coming into town for like a sporting event or concert or the train stations or we move a ton of 19.2 cans through there.”
Refreshing the City Series of Brands
In addition to changing its messaging around the Hero family, Revolution is also refreshing the branding of its City Series of beers — Fist City pale ale, Rev Pils and Cross of Gold golden ale — that are sold exclusively in the Chicagoland area.
Veliky said the company wanted to give the City Series “a slightly more modern look” and feature more Chicago-centric storytelling, with taglines such as “Brewed Only in Chicago” and “Classic Styles for any Session.”
“A lot of breweries would just kill these brands and say, ‘You know, we could just jump on the next trend,’” he said. “We’re instead going to double down on it and invest back in the brands. These are the beers that employees are grabbing from the employee beer area the most. These are brands we love, and we’ve just, we’ve never done any real marketing.”
Additionally, Cross of Gold is moving from 18-packs to 15-packs, which are beginning to hit retail shelves now. The move to a 15-pack for Cross of Gold is an effort to get the brand line-priced with Every Day-Hero, which is also sold in 15-packs and is the third-fastest growing craft SKU in off-premise Illinois retailers.
Rosa Reformulated as Low-Alc, Low-Calorie Offering
Revolution will also launch Rosa Fina, a 3.8% ABV, 95-calorie hibiscus lime beer, in 6-packs in May. Rosa Fina, which is a reformulated version of Revolution’s Rosa brand, a hibiscus ale that checked in at 5.8% ABV, will start in Revolution’s seasonal program with the potential for more, Veliky said.
“It’s definitely something that could turn into a year-round if the reception dictates that it would be successful,” he said.
Rosa Fina, which could play well with health conscious and active lifestyle consumers, will be as close as Revolution comes to playing in the alternative alcohol space. Veliky said the company has no plans for hard seltzer, kombucha or even non-alcoholic beers.
“We don’t have anyone in this brewery, from our owner to our brewmaster and beyond, we don’t have anybody asking to do these things,” he said. “So if there’s just there’s no passion behind it, we don’t do it.”
Re-upping with the White Sox
In other Revolution news, the company has renewed its sponsorship deal with the Chicago White Sox, which was first struck in 2018, for two years.
“It was super easy to decide that but we both wanted to continue on,” Veliky said. “We both thought it was a big win, and the team is getting very good, so we’re hoping that that continues to be a good opportunity to get our beer in front of a lot of new fans.”
For the 2020 season, Revolution’s taproom at Guaranteed Rate Field will increase the number of taps from eight to 12.