Anheuser-Busch will report earnings Thursday, marking the first time it will face Wall Street analysts’ questions since its Bud Light brand erupted in controversy.
Sales of Bud Light have tumbled over the past month after the company delivered a custom can to Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender woman with a large Instagram following. The video went viral, with some supporting Mulvaney and the company, and others responding with anti-trans reactions and calls for a Bud Light boycott. A-B’s vague statement calling for unity similarly alienated trans advocates.
For the week ending on April 22, sales of the beer at retailers fell 21.4%, according to NIQ data given to Bump Williams Consulting. The week prior, Bud Light revenue was down 17%, even as sales of rivals Miller Lite and Coors Light increased. That prompted Beer Business Daily to write in a Monday note to subscribers that it has “never seen such a dramatic shift in national share in such a short period of time.”
But don’t expect the sales freefall to be reflected in the beer maker’s bottom line Thursday. Mulvaney published her post on April 1 — a day after A-B’s first quarter ended. It is possible, however, that senior executives might make their first substantial public comments about the incident and answer questions from analysts during the earnings call.
“Company leadership has to address sales and the biggest impact they’ve likely seen has come from recent chain retail declines in Bud Light,” Bryan Roth, an analyst for Feel Goods Company and editor of the alcohol beverage newsletter, Sightlines+, told CNN.
A-B has been generally quiet since the backlash, with just one short comment posted to Twitter on April 14 from A-B CEO Brendan Whitworth that did not directly mention the controversy. Roth said that he expects “some kind of general reference to what’s happened to the brand, but not likely addressing the controversy head on” when the company speaks with Wall Street analysts Thursday.
Bud Light sales have been declining for years, but this situation has “snowballed” and made its troubles even more pronounced, Roth said.
“Now the company has alienated some conservatives while losing an opportunity to stand by Mulvaney and show a new generation of consumers how it cares about the people younger generations admire,” Roth said. “The future for Bud Light was already less bright before this controversy and is dimmer now.”
Perhaps more troubling for A-B is that the Bud Light sales declines are having a halo effect on its other brands, indicating that drinkers are shunning the whole brand. Sales of Natural Light, Busch Light and Michelob Ultra, which growing prior to March 30, were also down for the week of April 22, according to NIQ data given to Bump Williams Consulting.
Williams told CNN that he doesn’t think A-B has “any choice in terms of commenting on the sate of their sales” and he’s concerned about how long it takes for Bud Light to recover from this “if at all.”
“My fear is that this is no longer just a Bud Light issue, it’s an entire Anheuser-Busch portfolio issue,” he said.