SLIDE STEEPENS FOR BEER BEHEMOTHS MILLER LITE COULD LOSE NO. 2 STATUS IN '94

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Anheuser-Busch's Budslide is getting steeper, and Miller Brewing Co.'s Miller Lite is seeing further erosion of its status as a beer heavyweight.

Budweiser, while still the king of beers, saw shipments drop 6.5% in 1993 on the heels of a 3.1% falloff in 1992, Impact Databank reported last week.

Miller Lite's shipments sank 6.2% after a decline of 4.7% the previous year.

Impact noted without a turnaround, A-B's Bud Light will pass Miller Lite this year to become the country's No. 2 beer.

By contrast, the two major brewers' subpremium and some of their popular-price beers enjoyed an upswing, an outgrowth of the country's economic problems and growing pricing gaps between premium- and lower-price beers.

A Budweiser decline had been expected, as Advertising Age reported last month, based on the brand's problems in California attributed to the state's lagging economy, high unemployment and the widening beer-price differences.

A-B officials couldn't be reached for comment because of the holidays.

Traditional, full-calorie brews have been faltering for five years, but Budweiser didn't begin to see significant losses until three years ago. The original Coors and Miller High Life (until reinvigorated by last year's price repositioning) long ago lost their cachet.

A-B and Miller have unveiled new campaigns for their brews. Miller last week said TV spots36

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from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, which feature combination of diverse events like sumo wrestling and diving, are helping Lite sales brighten where the product has been backed by heavy local marketing efforts. Miller said additional local promotions are coming this year.

A-B introduced a new "Proud to be your Bud" effort from D'Arcy, Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, in May and more recently began a secondary effort calling Budweiser "a classic."

Overall, A-B saw total shipments increase 0.2% to 83.8 million barrels, thanks to Bud Light's healthy 11% gain and popular-price Natural Light's 30.8% surge. In contrast, Bud Dry was off 20.8%. In the key premium segment, shipments dropped 3.2%.

Miller, whose 1.4% volume increase was the biggest of the large brewers, made its gains in the popular-price segment, mainly from Miller High Life, which had a 23.8% increase.

However, at Miller the growth didn't come at much cost to the premium portfolio. The 11.9% growth of Miller Genuine Draft and the 10% gain in Genuine Draft Light nearly offset the decline in Lite. Miller's premium portfolio declined less than 1%.

The latest numbers offered a few surprises. Among them:

Despite the growth in popular-price beers, superpremiums seem to be recovering. The Michelob brands halted several years of decline; Michelob was flat and Michelob Light grew 4.8% last year. Van Munching & Co.'s Heineken saw a 10% increase in shipments. Boston Beer Co.'s Samuel Adams in the past four years has skyrocketed, with a 370% gain.

While popular-price beers did well as a group, there were some big exceptions. Stroh Brewery Co.'s Old Milwaukee's 9.8% volume drop gave the company the worst performance of any of the major brewers, down 9.1% overall. Other beers that faltered included A-B's subpremium Busch, off 3.1% (though companion Busch Light Draft was up 18.2%); Miller's popular-price Milwaukee's Best, off 3.3% (Best Light dropped 5.6%); S&P Corp.'s Pabst Blue Ribbon, off 4.8%; and G. Heileman Brewing Co.'s Old Style, off 5.3%.

Coors Brewing Co. saw volume grow 1.1%, with Coors Light's 2.4% rise and subpremium Keystone Light's 5.3% increase overcoming the 10.3% decline of the original Coors.M

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