Can Miller Lite get back to growth? Anup Shah shares the roadmap

Just more than a half year into his tenure leading Miller Lite, Anup Shah says that while the brand’s share performance has been strong, he’s not satisfied with its overall performance.

Buoyed by consistent messaging,  the Original Light Beer has outperformed its premium light peers, picking up 0.8 points of share, and has nearly held share in the beer industry overall, according to Nielsen all-outlet and convenience data through Nov. 10.

But Shah wants to get Miller Lite to growth, which he thinks the brand can achieve. To get there, the brand plans to get even more competitive in 2019 by going bolder with its messaging against category leader Bud Light and fast-growing Michelob Ultra.

“We’ve got a challenger mentality, and we’re eager to prove we’re the light beer with more taste,” Shah says. “We’ve always been a challenger brand, and competitive messaging is in our DNA. It’s always done to elevate our own brand credentials, not to disparage our competition."

Shah sat down with Behind the Beer to talk about his plans for Miller Lite.

Q: Anup, you’ve been in this job since April. What’s your view on the brand’s performance so far?

A: We’re generally pleased but we’re not satisfied. Volume is not where we want it to be, but if you look at share, we’re happy with its performance across all key measures. We’re gaining share in premium lights, and we’re growing share in the total mainstream segment, which includes Michelob Ultra. We need to get back to a place where we’re getting share growth in total beer, and I think this brand can do it.

Q: Why is Miller Lite outperforming other premium lights?

A: We’ve been very consistent with our messaging, deploying distinctive assets like our white can in unique, compelling ways. We see in our data that the combination of our focus on our product and our competitive positioning drives strong demand and helps us break through.

Q: You came to a brand that’s now in year three of this campaign. How do you keep Miller Lite’s work fresh and consistent?

A: It’s about continuing to evolve the work and lean into what’s working. Our new holiday work is a good example of that. Our new “Bottles of Holly” spot, for example, is right in line with where we want to be. It makes us part of the conversation during the holidays, breaks through the clutter and is unmistakably Miller Lite.

Q: You’ve also got a video spot focused on the Latino market called “Ponche.”

A: One of our main focuses has been making the brand relevant with Latino drinkers. Our “Ponche” spot is the first example of Miller Lite transitioning our Spanish language work. We want to connect with these consumers through their culture by depicting why Miller Lite is a great addition to Posadas, a traditional Mexican holiday celebration. You will see us continue to put Miller Lite in situations culturally relevant to our Latino consumer.

Q: In what ways are you evolving your messaging for next year?

A: We are trying to change consumers’ perception that all light beers are the same. One way to crystallize this for consumers has been to go head-to-head with Bud Light, using that brand as a foil to talk about our product. Both our advertising and the Know Your Beer program have helped us to do just that. Bud Light is shedding more than a million barrels a year in volume, and if we can capture higher than our fair share of that volume, that’s a pretty good business case. Bud Light will continue to be a source of volume for us, but we’ll be shifting even more to go after Michelob Ultra, which is growing at a pretty rapid clip. It’s perceived by consumers to have a sort of health halo with its low calories. Our position is, functionally, we provide more taste for only one more calorie.

Q: Where will we see this type of work?

A: We’re going to have more video assets. We took a surgical approach in 2018 focused on a couple of markets where Michelob Ultra was overdeveloped. For 2019, we’re going to take our competitive efforts versus Ultra national. You’ll see new creative next year, including out-of-home, print, digital, point-of-sale and an evolved Know Your Beer campaign. We’re also going after white wine drinkers.

Q: What? Wine drinkers?

A: Most consumers are surprised to learn that Miller Lite has fewer calories and carbs than a glass of white wine. We did a whole line of testing with consumers, and this line really resonated with consumers, providing them with a surprising factoid that drives reconsideration. It’s one of the best claims we can make to help set ourselves apart from other light beers, and it’s particularly appealing to Mich Ultra drinkers.

Q: Miller Lite may be outperforming other premium lights, which is great, but can it actually grow in real terms again?

A: We believe we can. We’re knocking on the door to growth, we just need to break through. By being bolder in recruitment and continuing to increase the volume we’re competitively sourcing, I think growth is achievable.