Bud Light appears to be betting that another round of line extensions will help improve flagging sales trends and extend its market leadership.
After peaking in 2008, the nation’s top-selling beer has been locked in an intractable decline — and not for lack of effort.
It’s launched new marketing campaigns aimed to thrust the brand back into the cultural zeitgeist. It’s spread millions of marketing dollars across the country sponsoring everything from the NFL to small-town festivals. It has promoted aggressively over big beer-selling holidays in an attempt to boost consideration. And, perhaps most interestingly, it has unveiled a spate of line extensions, starting in 2008 with Bud Light Lime.
Despite some promising flashes — Bud Light Lime-A-Ritas shot out of the gates and launched a new line of flavored malt beverages, Bud Light Orange was the top-selling new beer product in 2018 — none has managed to pull the brand out of its 11-year sales slump.
Although Bud Light still commands a 15.7 share of the total beer industry, its declines have accelerated in the past two years and particularly in 2019. Year-to-date sales are off 7.7% through Aug. 31, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience data. And in the most-recent four weeks, the returns are even worse, down 8.1%.
So Anheuser-Busch is taking another run at Bud Light line extensions, two of which are aimed squarely at the growing group of health-conscious consumers seeking lower-calorie beverages. The company told its distributors yesterday in St. Louis it plans to launch Bud Light Seltzer against fast-growing industry leaders White Claw and Truly, and a new beer brand called Bud Light Super Crisp that purports to have fewer calories and carbohydrates than other light lagers, according to reports in Beer Marketer’s Insights and Beer Business Daily.
Bud Light also reportedly is weighing a Bud Light Lemonade.
Bud Light Seltzer, which is still under development, would become Anheuser-Busch’s third seltzer brand following the rebranded Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer and the recently released Natural Light Seltzer. The company showed an image of a black cherry version to distributors yesterday and received a “muted response,” per Beer Marketer's Insights.
Little is known thus far about Bud Light Super Crisp, though it appears the brand will target younger legal-age drinkers with a proposition rooted in lower calorie claims, approachability and ease of drinking.
An Anheuser-Busch spokesman declined to comment.
The potential extensions are the latest in a long string of Bud Light spin-offs, underscoring the difficulty the company has had trying to plug the brand’s sales gaps with any sort of long-lasting solution.
While Bud Light Lime, released in 2008, still gobbles up a sizable chunk of volume more than a decade after its release, it’s not growing. Nor is Bud Light Orange, which spent most of 2018 as a Nielsen Top 10 growth brand but failed to repeat that success in year two. The brand is down more than 35% in the 12-week period ending Aug. 11, per IRI data cited by Beer Marketer’s Insights.
A follow-on extension released this year, Bud Light Lemon Tea, has logged less than 15% of the sales of Bud Light Orange in its debut year thus far, per IRI multi-outlet and convenience data through Aug. 25.
Meanwhile, the brand appears to be trying to resurrect Bud Light Platinum, a 7-year-old higher-end brand that peaked on its debut in 2012 and has declined in each subsequent year. The 6% alcohol-by-volume lager is down double-digits so far in 2019.
But Anheuser-Busch debuted a new TV spot for the brand earlier this month during the NFL season opening game, which drew a record number of live television viewers.
The spot, oddly, takes a shot at flagship Bud Light. The medieval king who rose to commercial fame in the brand’s erstwhile Dilly Dilly ads is shown ditching the fictional Bud Knight (resurrected, apparently, from his fictional death in a Super Bowl ad in February), for a night out in the castle with a new knight called Bud Knight Platinum.
AB named the brand “the official beer of Thursday night football” and designated a “sizable chunk” of its football marketing budget toward it for the back half of 2019, Ad Age reported.
Although Bud Light Platinum sells at a premium to Bud Light, the decision to take it off the shelf and promote it during prime time football surprised some in the industry. Beer Marketer’s Insights Publisher Benj Steinman called the move “a bit of a head scratcher” in his own publication and told Ad Age “it’s a bit surprising that Platinum, which is a relatively small brand in AB’s arsenal, is getting such a high profile this year.”
Nonetheless, an Anheuser-Busch spokesman told Ad Age that the company sees “a lot of opportunity for growth with Platinum, especially with the new premium packaging and positioning as a beer for nighttime drinking occasions."
But whether it — or any of the other planned line extensions — will bring enough firepower to resurrect a declining-yet-ubiquitous brand franchise is an open question.