Molson Coors: Bud Light backlash has resulted in ‘permanent shift’ in company’s favour

Molson Coors CEO Gavin Hattersley said the change in market share in favour of its Coors Light and Miller Lite brands represented a ‘permanent shift’ in the US beer market.

The market share won by Coors Light and Miller Lite from AB InBev rival Bud Light represents a “permanent shift” in US dynamics, rather than a blip, claims parent company Molson Coors.

In August, the brewer claimed sales of its Coors Light and Miller Lite brands combined were 50% higher than Bud Light by total industry dollars in the second quarter of 2023. In 2022, Bud Light had been bigger than both brands combined.

Bud Light sales took a hit starting in May from a backlash in reaction to the brand’s short-lived partnership with trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

The partnership prompted anger from some US conservatives, who threatened a boycott. AB InBev reported a 14.1% volume decline in the US in its second quarter, which it said was largely driven by Bud Light.

While AB InBev has been keen to tell investors that Bud Light’s woes will blow over soon, rival brewer Molson Coors yesterday (3 October) predicted that the change to the market dynamics were more long-lasting.

“We’re now more than six months into it and we feel very confident based on all the data we’ve seen that this is a permanent shift,” CEO Gavin Hattersley said, speaking at the company’s Strategy Day.

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Retailers are reallocating shelf space to the Coors Light and Miller Lite brands, the company claimed.

Molson Coors was also keen to emphasise that it has done the work to allow it to capitalise on and build momentum from its rival’s misfortune.

Chief commercial officer Michelle St Jacques, who until March this year held the CMO role at the company, said the progress made by the brands this year did not just happen in 2023, and credited the work the business has been doing since 2019 to revitalise its brands. This work has included a focus on marketing effectiveness and improving sales execution, as well as concentrating core brand messaging around “great taste and refreshment”.

St Jacques said Molson Coors core brands, which include Miller Lite and Coors Light, have been making steady progress in growing sales predating this year. She pledged that the brands would go “bigger and bolder” next year, with “really strong marketing plans” in place to appeal to both consumers and distributors.

Putting ‘guardrails’ in place

Bud Light’s significant drop in sales in the US came as a shock to AB InBev, which has since sought to emphasise the message that its partnership with Mulvaney “was one can, one influencer, one post, and not a campaign”.

Yesterday an investor put to Molson Coors that the kind of backlash Bud Light continues to face “could happen to anyone” and asked if the business had put in place any “guardrails” to prevent something like this from happening to its brands.

St Jacques said the company ensures campaigns and platforms perform well among its brands existing drinkers, as well as those it wants to attract. Ensuring “consistency” in its marketing messages is key, she stated.

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Internally, it also has a Marketing Compliance Committee, ran by legal, in place. This committee, which St Jacques stated had been in place “for years”, sees the company seek different reactions to its creative.

“Sitting on that committee is a diverse group of people across the organisation, so that as we come up with new campaigns or new ideas, we hear from broad swath of folks about what different reactions may be, and that allows us to make better informed decisions as we move forward,” she said.

The company also seeks opinions from its partners distributing its brands.

“A lot of times our sales team or distributors have really good insights from their local markets that allow us to think about the creative and the ideas from a different perspective and adjust as necessary,” St Jacques said.