Miller Moves Quickly to Exploit Rival's Revelation

Seeks Promotional Windfall in Anheuser-Busch's Beer Recipe Change

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CHICAGO ( -- SAB Miller is wasting little time in trumpeting rival Anheuser-Busch's admission in yesterday's Wall Street Journal that it has changed the recipe of Budweiser and Bud Light.
Miller is preparing attack ads focused on Anheuser-Busch's admission that it changed its beer recipe.
Miller is preparing attack ads focused on Anheuser-Busch's admission that it changed its beer recipe.

The brewer has put Miller Light's agency of record, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami, to work creating print ads about A-B's admission that could run nationally as soon as tomorrow, a Miller spokesman said. Creative was not available at press time. Miller said it did not know where the ads would run.

'The king has come clean'
"We're glad the king has come clean and admitted their long-term strategy is to get bigger and bigger by making Bud Light taste smaller and smaller," the spokesman said. "We'll be engaging in specific actions around this issue."

Crispin was already prepping a series of comparative TV spots -- scheduled to air in May -- called "Demonstrations." Details on that campaign were unavailable.

The Journal's report said that, in August 2003, A-B Chairman August Busch III told hops growers in the Pacific Northwest he intended to increase the proportion of hops used in A-B's beers in order to give the beers more taste after decades of gradually lightening their flavor to adjust to changing consumer tastes. "I told the growers of our desire to use more hops in our brewing for the purpose of delivering more amplitude and hop flavor in Budweiser," Mr. Busch told the paper.

While brewers tweak their beers all the time, that admission provides significant marketing ammunition for Miller, the No. 2 brewer behind A-B. Miller ran ads in November 2005 saying it detected a "changed" Bud Light, citing increases in bitterness and carbonation. That attack followed a 2004 campaign by Miller claiming its beers had "more taste" than A-B's.

Denounced Miller's ads
At the time, A-B denounced the ads as "another marketing ploy."

"Bud Light is the No. 1 selling light beer in the world, and it has been for more than a decade," A-B Vice President of Brewing Operations Douglas J. Muhleman said in a statement last November. "It's a winning formula and we haven't changed it." He did, however, acknowledge "small adjustments to address seasonal changes in raw ingredients."

In yesterday's Journal account, Mr. Muhleman acknowledged tinkering with hops levels in the beer.

A-B declined to comment.

Beer vs. spirits
The move by the St. Louis brewer to add more hops comes as beer is incrementally losing market share to wine and spirits. And, within the category, the greatest growth is being seen by craft brewers with more distinctive-tasting brews. A-B remains the largest brewer by a wide margin, but its market share fell last year, to 48.6% from 49.4%.
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