Budget Beers Get a Boost as Drinkers Tighten Belts

High Life, Natural Light See Uptick in Sales

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- As the economy continues to spiral downward, more and more beer drinkers are trading down to the High Life.

Sales of the cheap brew ironically dubbed the "Champagne of Beers" popped 6.5% during the four weeks ended Oct. 7, according to Information Resources Inc. Another MillerCoors bottom-shelf brand, Keystone, grew 11.2% during the same period. The two largest below-premium beer brands, Anheuser-Busch's Busch and Natural Light, have also seen upticks in sales.
Growth: Sales have risen for both brands.
Growth: Sales have risen for both brands.

Both IRI and Nielsen data show that the entire subpremium segment has been attracting more of consumers' beer money. That's a development the industry is less than thrilled with, since those sales appear to be coming at the expense of more-expensive, higher-margin beers such as Budweiser and Miller Genuine Draft.

"I'm selling way more economy brands than I'm comfortable with," said one MillerCoors wholesaler, who said he'd seen big gains not only for High Life and Keystone but even for also-ran brands such as Milwaukee's Best and Hamm's. "Consumers are trading down."

But if the brewers and their sales forces have to deal with trading down, they'd prefer consumers trade down into their brands.

The "Taking back the High Life" campaign begun by Miller last year seems to have put that brand in a prime position to take advantage of the trend that has materialized since. The spots feature a burly, sassy beer-truck driver who reclaims the blue-collar beer from French bistros and gourmet groceries.

The populism of the spots -- confiscating the beer from Wall Street types who don't deserve it -- seems ripped from the campaign trail these days. In fact, the beer-truck driver has been staging his own campaign this fall, stumping at sporting events and bars nationwide in a mock-political effort for the "Common Sense Party," complete with its own campaign buttons.
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