Bud Light Loses Title as Top-Selling U.S. Beer

From a Wall Street Journal story by Jennifer Maloney headlined “Bud Light Loses Title as Top-Selling U.S. Beer”:

Bud Light no longer rules the American beer market.

Modelo Especial overtook the brand as the top-selling U.S. beer in May, punctuating a monthslong boycott of Bud Light that has reshuffled the beer industry.

Modelo represented 8.4% of U.S. retail-store beer sales in the four weeks ended June 3, compared with 7.3% for Bud Light, according to an analysis of Nielsen data by consulting firm Bump Williams.

Bud Light’s sales have tanked since April, when transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney posted an image on Instagram of a personalized Bud Light can that the brand had sent her as a gift. The Instagram post sparked an uproar, and brewer Anheuser-Busch response to the boycott angered even more people.

Bud Light’s sales were down about 24% in the week ended June 3 compared with the same week last year, according to Bump Williams. Other Anheuser-Busch brands also have taken a hit, including Budweiser and Michelob Ultra.

The continued decline through May is an ominous sign for Bud Light distributors during what they say is a make-or-break stretch between Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Most Anheuser-Busch distributors are independently owned, many of them by families who have sold Budweiser for generations. Some Anheuser-Busch distributors said they are now contemplating layoffs. Others who also carry Constellation brands said their losses have been partially offset by Modelo’s surge.

“Our year is screwed,” said an Anheuser-Busch distributor who doesn’t carry Modelo.

Bud Light’s total sales over the first five months of the year are still higher than any other beer, the company said. Anheuser-Busch also remains the largest brewer in the country. But some Bud Light distributors said Tuesday that they believe Bud Light may be permanently dethroned.

Bud Light in 2001 surpassed Budweiser as the country’s top-selling beer, according to Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights, an industry tracking firm. In recent years, Bud Light’s U.S. sales have been falling as drinkers switched to Mexican import beers, seltzers, wine and spirits. Meanwhile, Modelo and Michelob Ultra, a low-calorie beer made by Anheuser-Busch, have been gaining traction. Those two beers were on track to eventually overtake Bud Light, but before the boycott that switch appeared to be at least a year away.

The sudden shift is “momentous, and even more so if it sticks,” Steinman said.

Modelo in the U.S. is sold by Constellation Brands. Constellation acquired the brand in 2013 from Anheuser-Busch after U.S. regulators required Anheuser-Busch to sell U.S. rights to Modelo Especial and Corona to gain clearance for its acquisition of Mexican brewer Grupo Modelo.

In 2013, Modelo didn’t rank among the top 10 U.S. beer brands, a Constellation spokesman said. It is now the top brand in California as well as in metropolitan areas such as Chicago, Dallas and Baltimore, he said. It is a top seller among Hispanic consumers and is growing in popularity among non-Hispanic consumers as well, he added.

Since the boycott, Anheuser-Busch has accelerated production of new Bud Light ads, leaning into the themes of football and country music. The brewer also told its distributors that it would buy back unsold cases of beer that have gone past their expiration date.

Jennifer Maloney is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in New York, covering the beverage, tobacco and cannabis industries as well as trends across the business world.

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