Anheuser-Busch to try — again — to revive flagging Shock Top brand

Anheuser-Busch is reportedly investing in its flagging Shock Top brand this year, hoping to return the beer to growth after three straight years of declines.

According to a report from Beer Marketer’s Insights (subscription required), Felipe Szpigel, president of Anheuser-Busch’s High End division, told a crowd of distributors late last month to “expect positive performance” for Shock Top in 2018. He said the brand is gaining features and displays at retail and its citrus-focused approach is working.

Shock Top plans a “big bet on shandy” this year and will introduce new 15-packs of cans and 25-ounce single-serve cans, according to the BMI report. And the brand is asking distributors to merchandise Shock Top next to its fast-growing Michelob Ultra Light.

The effort to revive Shock Top comes amid a difficult stretch for the brand franchise, which finished 2017 down 17.4 percent in sales dollars on a 19 percent drop in case volume, according to Nielsen all-outlet data through Dec. 30.

An Anheuser-Busch spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Anheuser-Busch’s resuscitation plan also comes after two failed campaigns to right the ship for Shock Top, which rolled out a re-branding campaign in May 2017 and released new flavors, including a grapefruit-flavored wheat ale and a beer made with Buddha’s Hand, a type of citrus fruit. Andy Goeler, the former vice president of marketing for AB’s High End division who now leads Bud Light and its “Dilly Dilly” campaign, said at the start of 2017 that he hoped to keep Shock Top flat over the year.

A year earlier, in 2016, Beer Marketer’s Insights reported that Anheuser-Busch aimed to “reverse Shock Top’s decline in 2015 and make it the No. 1 national craft brand in the U.S.” That year, it bought a Super Bowl ad featuring the comic TJ Miller and spent more money on marketing in its first quarter than it did in all of 2015, per BMI.

Shock Top volume fell for the first time in 2015, down 4.8 percent from the prior year, according to Nielsen. It continued its decline in 2016, falling 7.2 percent.

AB launched Shock Top Belgian White (then called Spring Heat Spiced Wheat) in 2006, following the success of Blue Moon Belgian White Belgian-Style Wheat Ale. In 2012, it released a lemon shandy under the Shock Top banner, five years after Leinenkugel’s launched Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. (Both Blue Moon and Leinenkugel's are part of the MillerCoors portfolio.)

Shock Top’s decline has been precipitous. In 2014, the year before the slide began, it posted impressive numbers, growing 45 percent faster than Blue Moon and increasing its penetration by 13.2 percent, according to a Nov. 2014 story in Beer Business Daily (subscription required.) And while the brand has struggled over the last three years, it still holds a 3.3 share in the craft beer segment.

The effort to prop up Shock Top comes as many national craft brands sputtered in 2017. Total volume for the top 17 craft brewers as measured by volume fell a combined 1.2 percent, according to a Beer Marketer’s Insights analysis. (The figures did not include Shock Top, Leinenkugel’s or Blue Moon.)

Nielsen sales figures show sales dollars in Boston Beer’s Samuel Adams franchise fell 16.8 percent and Sierra Nevada dropped 6.2 percent. New Belgium, meanwhile, posted a 7.3 percent gain.

Others fared better. Blue Moon Belgian White Belgian-Style Wheat Ale, the nation’s top-selling craft beer with an 8 share, posted an 8.2 percent sales bump, and the Leinenkugel’s Shandy franchise rose 10.4 percent, according to Nielsen.