Beer distributors are largely sticking by Bud Light and its parent company, Anheuser-Busch, as controversy continues to embroil the brand. Two Instagram posts featuring transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney earlier this month ignited fury from the right and hurt sales.
The brewing giant met with wholesalers on Tuesday at the National Beer Wholesalers Association Legislative conference to help “dispel potential retailer misconception” about the Mulvaney campaign, according to Beer Business Daily, an influential industry newsletter.
Anheuser-Busch sought to correct “misinformation” and “confusion” about the can given to Mulvaney, reiterating that it wasn’t a formal campaign or advertisement, according to the company’s memo to distributors, obtained by BBD. The single can given to Mulvaney was not for sale to the general public.
The wholesalers and Anheuser-Busch didn’t immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment. But Del Papa Distributing, a major Texas-based wholesaler, issued a statement of support earlier this week. It criticized the social media posts but said Anheuser-Busch wasn’t trying to make a political statement with them.
The controversy has hurt the Bud Light brand.
Bud Light pours at bars and restaurants declined in early April, according BeerBoard, which tracks sales data at thousands of bars and restaurants. BeerBoard told CNN that the 3,000 locations tracked by the firm poured 6% less Bud Light than rivals, including Miller Lite and Coors Light, from April 2 to April 15. Bud Light had been much more popular than rivals in the weeks before: From March 18 through April 1, customers ordered Bud Light 15% more than rival light beers.
Sales of Bud Light fell 17% in the week ended April 15 compared to the same week in 2022, according to an analysis of NIQ data compiled by Bump Williams Consulting provided to the Wall Street Journal. That same week, sales of rival beers Coors Light and Miller Lite each grew nearly 18% compared to the same week a year earlier.
But BBD said that “several” wholesalers it spoke with said they are “waiting out the storm” — expecting the backlash to fade a few weeks following the initial controversy, as many similar blow-ups have in the past.
Del Papa Distributing earlier this week told retailers that the Mulvaney campaign wasn’t a “political statement and the can was produced by a third-party ad agency, not A-B.”
“The importance of that decision means that the voices of upset consumers have been heard and that those responsible for harming the highly respected reputation of Bud Light and Anheuser-Busch are no longer able to do so,” the distributor said in its statement.
Del Papa also addressed the threats that some wholesalers are receiving following the Mulvaney campaign, seeking support for the brands it distributes and its employees that “have been negatively impacted by upset consumers,” and that it should “not allow an unfortunate decision to jeopardize the goodwill we have earned over many years of being good friends and neighbors in our communities.”
Still, some distributors are upset with Anheuser-Busch (BUD).
Distributors that BBD spoke with reportedly said they wished that A-B “had genuinely apologized for what A-B wholesalers have gone through in the trade, and the lost business they’ve had to deal with,” BBD said in Wednesday’s newsletter.
In response to the controversy, A-B has made leadership changes late last week including placing two Bud Light executives on leave, including Alissa Heinerscheid, Bud Light’s vice president of marketing and Daniel Blake, A-B’s vice president who oversees market for mainstream brands.
Heinerscheid said in a recent podcast interview that Bud Light needs to attract young drinkers to ensure the company’s future by promoting inclusivity. The company has a history of appealing to LGBTQ+ drinkers, releasing beer in rainbow bottles for Pride Month and partnering with LGBTQ+ support organizations.
Bud Light used this year’s Super Bowl to introduce a “new era” for the brand, with a cheeky ad featuring Miles and Keleigh Teller, that was aimed at attracting younger drinkers that have been gravitating toward drinking other alcoholic beverages, like canned cocktails.