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1 Year Later: Bud Light Still Suffering Backlash Effects

bud light backlash

The backlash against Bud Light sparked last year by transgender Instagram influencer Dylan Mulvaney damaged the brand financially and weakened small- and medium-sized wholesalers who have yet to recover, data examined by ABC News showed.

“It was really hurtful personally,” an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler with a trans child in the Northeast, told ABC. “I’m trying to understand what my kid is going through and then this happens.” The owner said he took a 30% pay cut and as a result is considering retirement.

1 Year Later: Bud Light Still Suffering Backlash Effects

Mulvaney’s April 2023 Bud Light promotion, which lasted less than a minute, set off a boycott that pushed sales down 25% overall, with some distributors reporting as much as a 50% hit. In the first quarter of 2024, AB InBev reported U.S. sales off 9.1% compared to last year while sales to retailers were down 13.1%.

ABC said some 500 independent distributors have been affected.

“The backlash has … ended,” marketing professor Ernan Haruvy of McGill University told The Food Institute. He blamed the current level of sales on evolving consumer tastes, saying the boycott enabled formerly loyal Bud Light drinkers to sample other products.

Haruvy said Coors Light and Miller Light were the immediate winners, although their sales also were off last year, while Corona Extra and Modelo Especial saw the most growth – in part due to aggressive marketing campaigns. The professor noted:

“These consumers are not likely to bounce back to Bud Light any time soon.”

“Once a consumer drops off a product — where there is a readily available and similarly priced substitute — a habit has formed and it’s difficult to shake that habit,” an executive at a wholesaler in the Southeast told ABC. “We have to give them a reason to come back.”

Anheuser-Busch wholesalers said sales have begun to inch up, and employees and drinkers have seen harassment diminish. Anheuser-Busch officials noted that despite the backlash, Bud Light still is the top-selling beer in the U.S. and touted its relationship with its wholesalers.

Tom Davis, director of operations at Katcef Brothers Inc., a Maryland Anheuser-Busch wholesaler, noted beer sales, in general, are down.

In 2023, beer sales were at their lowest level in a quarter century. Commerce Department figures show the industry shipped 192 million barrels. In 1990, 193.2 million barrels were shipped.

David Steinman, vice president and executive editor of Beer Marketers’ Insights, told NBC News 2023 was a tough year, largely because of inroads made by non-alcoholic alternatives.

The Food Institute Podcast’s “Foodservice Gamechangers” Series

Get to know the men and women behind the scenes of foodservice distribution in a new, limited series from The Food Institute Podcast called “Foodservice Gamechangers.” Recently, Pat Mulhern, advisor to The Food Institute, sat down for brief conversations with seven of the most influential foodservice merchandising and distribution leaders. Highlighting their food career journeys and management styles, the conversations feature insightful thoughts on what may lie ahead for manufacturers, distributors, and operators in foodservice.