Bud Light, America's former top-selling beer, continues to struggle in the aftermath of its ill-fated partnership with transgender TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney. Sales have remained stagnant, with the brand down around 30% in volume compared to last year since May or June, according to Beer Business Daily publisher Harry Schuhmacher. "That tells me that this is quasi-permanent, meaning those consumers are just lost forever," Schuhmacher said. This news follows the revelation that Bud Light had won back 15% of its boycotting drinkers, but it still lags behind Modelo, the current top-selling beer.
Bud Light's decline in sales is evident in the numbers, as it is down 26.9% in dollars and 30.3% in volume, according to a study by Bump Williams Consulting. Schuhmacher believes that the brand will continue to see similar year-over-year declines for the foreseeable future, possibly until April and May of 2024 when they surpass the controversy. He expressed surprise that the industry had expected a quicker rebound, stating that "it's actually worse than just lost sales because now it's getting to the point where it's becoming systemic within the industry, and they're losing the confidence of the retailers, and that's when it starts getting bad."
Schuhmacher's concerns are not unfounded, as he predicts a challenging winter for Bud Light, whose only saving grace is the strong connections it maintains with wholesalers. However, he emphasizes that wholesalers can only do so much to fix the situation and that the brand needs to regain the confidence of both retailers and consumers. He believes that next summer will be a crucial test for the brand's long-term success.
The controversy surrounding Bud Light began when Anheuser-Busch InBev sent Dylan Mulvaney a beer can with her face on it to celebrate her 365th day of girlhood as part of their March Madness partnership. The promotion featured Mulvaney in a bathtub surrounded by Bud Light, wearing a purple bikini. The ad quickly drew criticism, with Kid Rock even filming himself shooting cans in protest. Mulvaney, who had gained fame on TikTok, spoke out about the transphobia and hate she experienced after the campaign, urging support for trans people. However, despite the controversy, Bud Light's slow recovery has been surprising and unprecedented in the beer industry.
The impact of the backlash on Bud Light's sales has been severe. Anheuser-Busch InBev reported a significant drop in profits, with U.S. revenue down 10.5% in the second quarter and earnings before taxes, interest, and depreciation falling 28.2%. The company has had to lay off hundreds of workers as a result. Schuhmacher believes that Bud Light's tarnished reputation may be quasi-permanent, but he notes that other Anheuser-Busch brands have started to rebound, providing some hope for the company.
Despite these challenges, Anheuser-Busch has not released an official statement regarding Bud Light's sales decline. The industry will continue to monitor the brand's progress, particularly as it works to regain the trust of retailers and consumers alike.