Yuengling Takes FLIGHT

Wendy Yuengling, the Chief Administrative Officer, is part of the brewery’s sixth generation of family ownership.

(Originally written by Joshua M. Bernstein)

Now in its 195th year, the venerable Pennsylvania brewery is set for continued success.

Dan Hemenway is well-acquainted with the migratory patterns of Massachusetts snowbirds, the cold-averse people that flock to warmer locales come winter. While soaking up sunshine, they’re likely sipping beers like Yuengling Traditional Lager, especially in Florida. “That’s where the brand thrives,” says Hemenway, Domestic Brand Manager for Boston-area wholesaler Burke Distributing.

The insight led Burke, which acquired the Yuengling brand in late 2022, to reverse flagging sales – down 10% in 2023’s first quarter – by targeting private clubs like Elks lodges and VFW halls, where members might skew older and seek December suntans. Over the last three quarters of 2023, Burke saw about 5% growth with Yuengling.

“The clubs were a glaring miss,” Hemenway says. “We set the groundwork for unbelievable sales.”

Despite the overall beer industry’s slump, 2023 was a banner year for D.G. Yuengling & Son. The Pottsville, Pennsylvania, lager brewery expanded into Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, creating a 26-state footprint, and off-premise volume sales for core brands dramatically increased, with the flagship Traditional Lager (+20%), Light Lager (more than +60%), and low-carb FLIGHT (more than +100%) leading the charge.

The brewery is celebrating its 195th anniversary this year, and its past is fueling its future. “You’re seeing a resurgence in lagers,” says Wendy Yuengling, the Chief Administrative Officer and part of the brewery’s sixth generation of family ownership. Some national light lager brands have struggled, but “with the awareness of our light beers, we feel like there’s tremendous runway.”

Delayed Flight Takeoff

In particular, the brewery is betting big on FLIGHT, its 95-calorie, active-lifestyle lager that was introduced in March 2020, at the onset of the Covid pandemic. But with lockdowns lifted, FLIGHT is taking off toward a new demographic. “It’s attracting younger drinkers and skewing more female,” Yuengling says.

The low-carb 95-calorie FLIGHT is one of Yuengling’s biggest priorities for 2024.

Matthew P. Candelori, Marketing Manager for Kramer Beverage, which covers southern New Jersey, is finding big inroads with FLIGHT, especially on draught. “We’ve got accounts swapping out Michelob Ultra for FLIGHT,” Candelori says.

New accounts are choosing to carry FLIGHT draught from the start. Bordentown Square Tap + Grill, which opened in Bordentown, New Jersey, in December, offers both Traditional Lager and FLIGHT on draught. “FLIGHT has really stood on its own,” Candelori says. “We’re at a point now where we want to make sure we have a steady stream of inventory of FLIGHT draught to make sure none of these accounts run out.”

Expanding into New States Broadens the Customer Base

Over the last few years, Yuengling has steadily expanded sales westward through the Yuengling Company, its partnership with Molson Coors Beverage Company. This year will find the brewery focusing on further establishing its presence, in part through display execution and seeking on-premise opportunities.

At its Fort Worth, Texas, brewery, Molson Coors produces four Yuengling beers – Traditional Lager, Light Lager, FLIGHT, and Golden Pilsner – and regional preferences are emerging. In Texas, where light lagers are tailor-made for hot weather, “FLIGHT has outperformed our expectations,” Yuengling says.

Yuengling has also produced its core lineup in Tampa, Florida, since 1999, when the company purchased the former Stroh’s Brewery, but many “people don’t know that we brew beer in Florida,” Yuengling says.

Last June, the brewery emphasized its Florida roots by opening Tampa’s Yuengling Draft Haus & Kitchen. The sleek and sprawling facility features a coffee shop, firepits, bands, and a beer-focused menu featuring lager-brined chicken wings and chili infused with brewery’s Black & Tan.

“It really helps us put a shovel in the ground and say that we’re also a local brand,” Yuengling says.

Yuengling is finding new fans with the bright and tropical Bongo Fizz, which was released in November 2022.

The taproom also serves as an introduction to the brewery’s broader portfolio, including its Lord Chesterfield Ale, Dark Brewed Porter, Golden Pilsner, and mango-flavored Bongo Fizz. In particular, the brightly refreshing Bongo Fizz is a taproom best seller, resonating with new customers seeking fruit-flavored beverages.

“It brings drinkers into our brand family,” Yuengling says of the brand that debuted in 2022.

Pete Steffy, a Brand Manager for Origlio Beverage, reiterates Bongo Fizz’s appeal beyond Yuengling’s core customer base. “As the weather gets warmer, we definitely see trends kick up for Bongo Fizz,” he says. “The liquid is great. It’s got a catchy name. And it’s a little bit different than what Yuengling has done in the past.”

Don’t expect Yuengling to roll out a high-ABV, hazy IPA heavy on adjuncts, or a lemony hard tea. Instead of jumping into new categories, the brewery remains committed to its founding mission. “We have definitely drawn a line in the sand and said, ‘We are a traditional brewer and we make great lagers,’” Yuengling says. “We make a beer for every taste.”

About the Author: Award-winning beer journalist Joshua M. Bernstein is the author of six books, including The Complete Beer Course.

About Kramer Beverage 

Kramer Beverage is South Jersey’s largest beer wholesaler and is owned and operated by the Kramer family – through four generations – since 1924.  Kramer Beverage is based out of Hammonton and serves an eight-county footprint in South Jersey with top brands from Molson Coors, Constellation, Yuengling, Boston Beer, Heineken USA, Pabst, Diageo, FIFCO, and others.  Kramer Beverage also distributes wine, spirits, and a variety of craft beers from suppliers such as New Belgium and Sierra Nevada to local favorites, including Cape May Brewing, Flying Fish, MudHen, Double Nickel, Evil Genius, and Glasstown. For more information on Kramer Beverage, please visit www.kramerbev.com.

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