AB InBev earnings beat expectations, ignore the Bud Light debacle

The world’s largest brewer finally has another reason to make headlines besides its Bud Light marketing gaffe: Stellar revenue.

Belgian firm Anheuser-Busch InBev reported core earnings of $4.76 billion, up 13.6% from Q1 2022, in its result in the first quarter today (May 4). The company attributed the massive wave – Wall Street was expecting one jump of around 5.6%– to “pricing actions” and “product premiumizations.” In other words, price increases were absorbed by customers, and many of them opted for higher-end products this quarter.

In announcing better-than-expected results, AB InBev didn’t address the Bud Light controversy or its fallout—probably because everything happened after the quarter ended on 31 March, and the effect would not be seen in these results. ONEthough, read between the lines so to speak The company is cautious. For example, it could have raised its guidance on the back of a strong first quarter, but the US conservative backlash against the social media campaign may have stopped the company from doing so.

Later, on the earnings call, CEO Michel Doukeris told investors it is too early to have a full overview” of the situation’s impact on sales. “The Bud Light volume decline in the US during the first three weeks of April, as publicly reported, will represent about 1% of our total global volumes for that period, he said.

Bud Light’s inclusion campaign went awry

A backlash against trans rights has engulfed various cases in the US, from children and drag shows for delivery of gender confirmation healthcare to trans athletes’ participation in sporting events. And then it came for beer. Bud Light’s campaign with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney — the brewer sent her a personalized box to mark 365 days since her transition — became a lightning rod in the political storm.

The Mulvaneys April 2nd Instagram post did not go down well with the company’s more traditional, conservative beer drinkers. Supporters of Kari Lake, the failed Donald Trump-backed GOP 2022 candidate for Arizona governor, refused to drink free Bud Light at an open bar at a rally in Iowa. A restaurant owner in Kentucky said the divisive ad was the reason behind it a bar fight break out. A restaurant chain in Florida struck the beer off the menu to oppose “biblical faith.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took a break from His Disney feud to say Bud Light lost him as a customer. Musician Kid Rock even filmed a video of himself shooting a bunch of Bud Light cans.

The sale of the beer has reportedly been reported plungedand wholesalers even received personal threats due to campaign backlash.

To make matters worse, Bud Light’s producer failed to endorse his and Mulvaney’s campaign. On April 14, CEO Brendan Whitworth, without directly addressing the controversy, said in a statement that the beer brand “never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.” The statement failed to quell the controversy, but succeeded in attracting criticism from the LGBTQ community the ad was trying to reach. Whitworth’s response was weak, and too little too late, according to LGBTQ activists.

One big number: Bud Light sales are falling

26.1%: How much Bud Light’s sales fell in the week ending April 22, compared to the same time a year ago, according to figures from the trade newsletter Beer business daily, cited by Barron’s. Meanwhile, rival beer brands are Miller Lite and Coors Light notices an increase in sales.

Person of interest: Alissa Heinerscheid

Alissa Heinerscheid, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president of marketing who oversaw the partnership campaign with Mulvaney, took leave, along with her boss Daniel Blake. Todd Allen, Budweiser’s global vice president, is goes in.

In a podcast interview released before the controversy, Heinerscheid explained that her mission was to bring Bud Light to a new customer base: “I had a very clear job to do when I took over Bud Light. It was, this brand is in decline, it’s been in decline for a very long time, and if we don’t attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand, there will be no future for Bud Light.”

Quote: Which side of history will Bud Light be on?

“In terms of marketing, I hope and I think they realized that as a brand they’ll be extinct in a few years if they’re not completely on the equality side, because that’s what the Gen Z consumer expects and demands,” — Stacy Lentz, a co-owner of the Stonewall Inn, who started a Bud Light boycott during New York Pride to protest Anheuser-Busch’s donations to Republican politicians who had supported anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

AB InBev’s beer sales, by figures

25%: Share of all beer drunk globally produced by AB InBev, which makes Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona among others

0.4%: The increase in the company’s beer sales was in the 1st quarter of 2023, compared to a year ago. China finally emerging from the Covid-19 lockdowns played a significant role considering volumes in all other regions fell.

19.4%: How much beer shipments from the United States to wholesalers decreased between December 2020 and December 2022, according to Wells Fargo. Light beer is special losing out on craft beer, and other alcohol such as wine and spirits. Bud Light may be recovering from its social media marketing controversy, but turn around years of erosion will become more difficult.

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This post has been updated with Michel Doukeris’ comments.

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