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Four of the nation's five largest beers shrank in shipment volume last year as drinkers' desire for ice beers and new microbrews produced some surprise effects on major players.

Yearend numbers from Impact Databank, New York, show that among the losers were the nation's No. 1 beer, Budweiser, No. 3 Miller Lite, No. 4 Coors Light (in the brand's first share loss) and No. 5 Busch beer.

Of the top 10 beers only Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light, up 8.6% to 16.4 million barrels and No. 6 Natural Light, up 4.3% to 7.3 million, escaped the carnage; No. 9 Miller Brewing Co.'s Miller High Life was flat. As expected, Bud Light passed Miller Lite to be the nation's No. 2 beer.

"It's not too encouraging considering all the ice beers hitting the market," said Frank Walters, Impact's research director.

Impact reported overall shipments were down 0.3% to 187.7 million barrels, though it said brewers saw a rise in volume for premium-price products.

Miller Lite's continuing losses-it was down 7.3% to 15.3 million barrels last year-may spell the end of both the current Miller Lite ad campaign from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, and Miller's relationship with the agency.

Young & Rubicam, Chicago and New York, and Bates USA, New York, have both been hard at work recently on ideas for Lite with a decision on a new campaign or agency expected quickly.

Budweiser, which already switched campaigns and left D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, St. Louis, for DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, dropped 5.7% to 38.4 million barrels, continuing its recent slide.

After accounting for inventory fluctuations due to labor negotiations, Mr. Walters said Bud was down about 3% in actual sales.

No. 4 Coors Light, which has been riding a growth curve through the 1980s and '90s, saw its shipments fall 0.8% to 12.4 million barrels. No. 7 Miller Genuine Draft also saw a 4.4% falloff to 6.5 million barrels.

Other losers included No. 5 Busch, down 5.4% to 8.7 million barrels; No. 8 Stroh Brewery Co.'s Milwaukee's Best, down 10.3% to 5.2 million; and No. 10 Old Milwaukee down 8.7% to 4.6 million.

The quick growth of ice beers-moving from less than 0.2% of industry volume in 1993 to 2.9% in 1994-explains some of the major brews' losses.

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