Food & Drink

The Slow, Watery Death of Light Beer in America


It’s no secret that big industrial beers like Budweiser are in terminal decline in the U.S. thanks to the growing sophistication of American drinkers. So perhaps it was inevitable that light beers from the same monolithic brewers might suffer the same fate sooner or later. It turns out to be sooner than one might think.

Here’s a statistic that will hearten beer snobs and unnerve high-ranking people at Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI:BB) and MillerCoors. Domestic light beer sales in the U.S. will hit a 10-year low in 2015, according to a report in Shanken News Daily. Light beer sales fell by 3.5 percent, to 98.4 million barrels, in 2013, and the e-mail newsletter projects that sales will decline by an additional 4.9 million barrels by 2015.

The biggest losers in the report are the obvious suspects. AB InBev’s Bud Light, the sector’s dominant force, suffered its fifth straight down year, according to the newsletter, dropping by 3.1 percent, to 37.6 million barrels. Coors Light lost 1.5 percent of its sales, and Miller Lite had an even worse year as sales dwindled by 5.9 percent.

“We’ve seen shifts in the marketplace over the past decade, yet we’re well-positioned to respond to consumer trends,” said David Almeida, vice president of sales at Anheuser-Busch. He pointed to innovation in the Bud Light brand, including such new drinks as the Bud Light Lime Straw-Ber-Rita, as well as “significant marketing support and a new creative campaign” to help bolster the company’s signature light beer.

Another relatively new beer, Bud Light Platinum, features prominently in the sales report. AB InBev hoped would offset its mother brand’s decline, but as Shanken News Daily found:

“The light beer downturn that began in 2009 saw a brief interruption with 2012’s volume gain of 0.6 percent. But that upturn was primarily due to the launch of super-premium Bud Light Platinum, which exceeded 1.7 million barrels in that year. Last year, Bud Light Platinum suffered a 19 percent slide, and the super-premium light beer sector fell by nearly 700,000 barrels.”

Naturally, Shanken attributes the entire segment’s woes to the increasing popularity of craft beer, imports, and cider. Cider? If that’s depressing Bud Light sales, no amount of TV advertising can save American’s biggest light beer brand.

(This post has been updated with a comment from AB InBev.)

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Leonard is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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  • ABI:BB
    (Anheuser-Busch InBev NV)
    • $90.2 EUR
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