Miller Lite Passes Budweiser in Sales as All Big Beers Decline

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Budweiser's marketing tactics, like putting 'America' on packaging, has not stemmed a decline.
Budweiser's marketing tactics, like putting 'America' on packaging, has not stemmed a decline. Credit: Anheuser-Busch

The King of Beers keeps falling farther off the throne. Budweiser was passed by Miller Lite as the nation's third-best selling beer, according to newly released 2017 year-end sales figures from Beer Marketer's Insights. Bud Light still has a strong grip on the top spot, followed by Coors Light.

But the competition among America's top brews has devolved into a contest of who can fall the slowest, rather than actually grow, as craft beers and spirits continue to give big brands problems. At the same time, Michelob Ultra and Modelo Especial have surged, while Corona continues to make steady gains.

Bud's fall to fourth continues a long-running slump since the so-called King of Beers peaked in the late 1980s. It lost its second-place spot in 2011 to Coors Light.

Anheuser Busch InBev can take solace in the fact that while Bud is falling in the U.S., it continues to post strong global growth.

Bud Light finished 2017 with 15.4 percent market share measured by shipments, well above Coors Light's 7.6 percent share, according to Beer Marketer's. But Bud Light's share is down from 16.2% in 2016 as the brand suffered its biggest yearly volume drop ever—a 5.7 percent decline, according to Beer Marketer's. The brand's "Dilly Dilly" campaign has stirred new interest, but that has yet to translate into sales. Budweiser fell even more, with volume down 6.8 percent. Miller Lite's volumes fell 2.8 percent.

A MillerCoors spokesman declined comment on Monday, but parent company Molson Coors has been foreshadowing Lite's move to third in public presentations. "We're very pleased with our performance on Miller Lite," Molson Coors CEO Mark Hunter said on a Nov. 1 earnings call. "It's doing well in a declining segment."

Lite last summer shifted creative advertising duties to DDB Chicago from 180LA. The brand has been going squarely after Bud Light with spots that tout Lite as having "less calories" and "half the carbs" of its larger competitor.

Budweiser in recent months has shifted away from using Anomaly as its core agency in the U.S., instead relying on a group of shops that includes VaynerMedia, David and Mosaic. The three shops pitched work for Bud's Super Bowl ad, but Anheuser Busch InBev has yet to reveal details on the spot. Recently Bud has spent much of its marketing energy promoting its limited-edition 1933 Repeal Reserve Amber Lager.

Budweiser U.S. VP Ricardo Marques in a statement said: "Budweiser remains the leader of the classic lager segment—and continues to see consistent improvements in brand health and consideration, with consideration being the number one indicator of future sales. Budweiser is in a strong position for the future, and we are very confident in our current plans and the year ahead of us."

But there's no question the brewer's star brand is Michelob Ultra, whose shipment growth surged 21.3% in 2017, ranking it as the nation's sixth-largest beer, right behind Corona, which is owned by Constellation Brands. Constellation's Modelo Especial continues to soar, with its shipments growing 17.4 percent, according to Beer Marketer's, putting it in seventh place.

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