1.5% of U.S. shipments: Brewers get bellyful of low-carb contenders

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The low-carbohydrate beer category is getting fatter.

From a standing start in 2002, low-carb beers now account for about 1.5% of U.S. shipments, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. Anheuser-Busch Cos.' Michelob Ultra is the dominant offering in a category filling up with products from Labatt USA and Coors Brewing Co. along with small or regional breweries. Even struggling Miller Lite, which has seen sales slide for years, has fared better since it emphasized the brew's fewer carbs.

"It seems to be a broad, social phenomenon," said Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer's Insights. "How sweeping, how sustaining-those are big questions."

The high-end offerings draw from several demographics-young men, women and retirees-who have curtailed their drinking as their metabolism slows. "It isn't just old people. It's 20-year-old yuppies," said one beer marketer. "Nobody wants a beer belly."

Labatt in Canada has Labatt Sterling, a sibling to its south-of-the-border Rock Green Light, which went national Oct. 1. Interpublic Group of Cos.` McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York handles.

Coors Brewing Co. is launching Aspen Edge with Interpublic's Deutsch, New York. Matt Brewing Co. is selling Accel with the help of independent Trainor Associates, New Hartford, N.Y. Long Beach Brewing Co. is giving the Thin Ice malt beverage a go, and tapped Boston independent Modernista. Lite's agency is WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York. For Ultra, Waylon Advertising, St. Louis, developed launch creative with national shop Omnicom Group's DDB, Chicago.

Launched in September 2002, Michelob Ultra is becoming the fastest-growing brand in company history. "We were amazed at how fast this brand was growing, so now we've tripled our projection," said Bob Lachky, VP-brand management and director of brand creative.

contributing: gail chiasson

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