Beer Sales Set to Plunge to Lowest Levels in More Than 20 Years After Bud Light Controversy

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Drop in sales due in part to boycott against Anheuser-Busch-owned Bud Light over its deal with transgender activist Dylan Mulvaney.

Beer sales across the United States declined in 2023 and are set to drop to their lowest level in more than 20 years in the wake of the Dylan Mulvaney controversy and its long-lasting impact on Bud Light, industry experts have said.

Beer shipments in the United States decreased by over 5 percent during the first nine months of 2023, according to data from Beer Marketer’s Insights cited by The Washington Examiner.

The drop in sales was due in part to a widespread boycott against Anheuser-Busch-owned Bud Light earlier this year after the company decided to partner with transgender activist Mulvaney for a campaign, according to experts.

Bud Light came under fire after it sent the influencer a pack of beers with Mulvaney’s face emblazoned across them to celebrate both the TikTok star’s 365 days of being a “woman” and to promote the company’s “March Madness” contest.

Influencer Mulvaney is a biological male who identifies as female.

The move sparked a backlash among Bud Light drinkers, and Anheuser-Busch, which also produces Budweiser, lost up to $6.5 billion in stock value within just days.

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Bud Light, which was the No. 1 selling beer in the United States for decades, also lost its top spot to Modelo Especial as a result of the partnership with Mulvaney.

Despite the controversy happening near the start of this year, Bud Light sales have steadily declined each month since by 25 percent to 30 percent, according to industry data cited by the New York Post, suggesting the fallout from the controversy is still having last effects.

The beer’s sales in stores were down by 28 percent in the four weeks ending Dec. 9 compared to the same period last year, according to a Wall Street Journal report, citing data from NielsenIQ and Bump Williams Consulting.
“This year in particular AB is driving the decline in the industry,” David Steinmann, vice president and executive editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights, told the New York Post, referring to Anheuser-Busch.

As a result, experts now anticipate beer sales will continue to decline to their lowest point since 1999, although a change in consumer habits, particularly among younger drinkers, is also playing a role.

According to separate data published earlier this year by Berenberg Research, Generation Z is consuming less alcohol than younger people in past generations, while the number of college-age adults opting to ditch alcohol entirely has grown 8 percent, from 20 to 28, in the past two decades, a University of Michigan study found.
More and more Americans are also turning to nonalcoholic beers and canned cocktails, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Cannabis Use Rising

However, a rise in Cannabis use is also a contributing factor to the decline in alcohol consumption, with more and more millennials and Gen Z Americans now viewing alcohol as more harmful than marijuana, Axios reported.

According to the same University of Michigan study, the number of young adults using marijuana, as well as co-using alcohol and marijuana, has increased in recent years.

The rise in Cannabis consumption comes as more and more states move to legalize marijuana use for recreational purposes, with Ohio becoming the 24th state in America to vote to allow adult recreational marijuana use in November.

‘A Bud Light Problem’

Still, experts believe one of the biggest reasons behind the drop in beer sales is Bud Light’s controversy earlier this year, with a Molson Coors spokesman telling The Wall Street Journal, “It’s not so much a beer problem as it is a Bud Light problem.”

 Transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney accepts an award onstage during the 2023 Streamy Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza, in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 27, 2023. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney accepts an award onstage during the 2023 Streamy Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza, in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 27, 2023. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

While Bud Light has continued to try and reshape its image in the wake of its controversy with influencer Mulvaney through a number of promotions and marketing strategies, the company appears unable to shift the scandal.

In October, Anheuser-Busch reported a 13.5 percent loss in its third-quarter revenue in the United States. The beer makers’s U.S. sales also dropped 17 percent “primarily due to the volume decline of Bud Light,” the firm said.

Despite the ongoing fallout from the Mulvaney controversy, Anheuser-Busch is keeping an optimistic outlook going into next year.

“For 2024, we will continue to focus on what we do best—brewing great beer for everyone and earning our place in the moments that matter,” an Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal.

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