Bud Light, top US seller since 2001, loses sales crown to Modelo as beer backlash continues

by Gabriel Martinez
beer market shift

In a significant shift, Bud Light, the long-standing top-selling beer in the United States, has been dethroned by Modelo as sales continue to decline amidst a beer backlash. According to Nielsen data analyzed by Bump Williams Consulting, Modelo Especial, a Mexican lager, surpassed Bud Light in retail dollar sales for the month ending June 3. Modelo secured 8.4% of sales in U.S. grocery, convenience, and liquor stores, while Bud Light fell to 7.3%.

This marks a milestone in Bud Light’s sales decline, which began in early April after facing criticism for sending a commemorative can to transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney. Angry critics pledged to boycott the brand, and Mulvaney’s fans expressed disappointment in Bud Light’s perceived lack of support. Bud Light had maintained its position as the best-selling U.S. beer since 2001, and there is still a possibility of reclaiming the crown this year. With a year-to-date market share of 9%, Bud Light currently outpaces Modelo at 8%. Additionally, Bud Light continues to have higher sales volumes.

However, Modelo seems to be gaining the advantage, with double-digit increases in dollar sales every week. The recent launch of Modelo Oro, a new light beer in May, has also contributed to increased brand awareness. It’s worth noting that sales in bars and restaurants, which are more challenging to track, are not included in the retail figures. Prior to April, Bud Light had significantly outperformed Modelo in these venues. Yet, it is believed that Bud Light experienced a sharper sales decline in bars and restaurants compared to retail stores, as stated by David Steinman, vice president and executive editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights.

Bud Light’s retail sales in the U.S. declined by 24% in the week ending June 3, while Modelo Especial’s sales increased by 12%, according to Dave Williams. Scott Scanlon, an executive vice president at the consulting firm Circana specializing in the alcohol market, pointed out that Mexican imports like Modelo and Corona have been the major success stories in an otherwise stagnant U.S. beer market for years.

Initially marketed to Hispanic drinkers when it first entered the U.S. market in the 1990s, Modelo expanded its consumer base significantly after launching English-language ads in 2015. Its fuller flavor has made it particularly popular among younger consumers. Although Modelo already holds the top spot in markets like Los Angeles and Chicago, Scanlon believes there is still significant room for growth on the East Coast.

Scanlon attributes Modelo’s ascent to its impressive growth numbers, stating that it was destined to become the number one beer brand. The pandemic further boosted Modelo’s U.S. sales as the brand relies more on retail stores than bars and restaurants. Bud Light’s missteps also contributed to its rival’s rise. Grupo Modelo, the Mexican brewer, is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the same parent company as Bud Light. Constellation Brands, a company based in Rochester, New York, has held the license to sell Modelo in the U.S. since 2013 as part of an agreement with antitrust regulators following InBev’s acquisition of Grupo Modelo.

Constellation Brands announced a nearly doubled marketing spending on Modelo over the past five years, seeing continued growth potential in the U.S. market. However, Bud Light is not backing down. InBev recently revealed plans to triple its marketing expenditure in the U.S. this summer, with a focus on sports and music festivals. Bud Light remains a prominent sponsor of LGBTQ+ Pride events.

An Anheuser-Busch spokesperson stated, “For the year, Bud Light remains the number one brand in the U.S. nationally in volume and dollar sales.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about beer market shift

What was Bud Light’s position in the US beer market prior to the sales decline?

Bud Light had been the top-selling beer in the United States since 2001, holding the number one position in terms of volume and dollar sales nationally.

What caused Bud Light’s sales decline?

Bud Light’s sales decline was attributed to a beer backlash that began in early April. The brand faced criticism for sending a commemorative can to transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney, which led to calls for a boycott. Additionally, some of Mulvaney’s fans felt that Bud Light did not provide sufficient support, further impacting sales.

Which beer overtook Bud Light in sales?

Modelo Especial, a Mexican lager, surpassed Bud Light in U.S. retail dollar sales, according to Nielsen data analyzed by Bump Williams Consulting. Modelo secured 8.4% of sales in U.S. grocery, convenience, and liquor stores, while Bud Light fell to 7.3%.

What advantages does Modelo have over Bud Light?

Modelo has seen increasing dollar sales and double-digit growth percentages every week. The launch of a new light beer variant, Modelo Oro, in May has contributed to heightened brand awareness. Furthermore, Modelo’s popularity among younger drinkers, broader consumer base, and robust sales in markets like Los Angeles and Chicago have positioned it for potential growth on the East Coast.

Will Bud Light be able to regain its top position?

While Bud Light’s year-to-date market share of 9% still outpaces Modelo’s 8%, Modelo’s upward sales trend and growing market presence pose a challenge. Bud Light, however, retains higher sales volumes overall. The competition between the two brands remains dynamic, and Bud Light plans to counter with increased marketing spending and continued sponsorship of LGBTQ+ Pride events.

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BeerLover88 June 15, 2023 - 3:33 am

oh wow, bud light losin its spot? not expectd dat! modelo takin over? whaaat? i gues ppl rly got mad bout dat trans influencer can thing. bud light got sum real competishn now!

HopHead42 June 15, 2023 - 3:59 am

bud light’s downfall is no surprise, man. dey messed up wit da whole dylan thing. modelo’s been makin big moves, tho. dey comin in hot wit new beers n gainin ground. gonna be interestin to see if bud light can bounce back.

CervezaFanatico June 15, 2023 - 10:11 am

modelo on top now? increíble! always love the flavor of modelo especial. bud light’s mistakes hurt them for sure. gonna stick with my modelo, they know how to make a tasty brew.

CraftBeerEnthusiast June 15, 2023 - 5:38 pm

Bud Light fallin behind Modelo? Good riddance, I say! Bud Light never had the flavor or quality. Modelo’s been on the rise, bringin some much-needed variety to the beer scene. Let’s raise a glass to the changing tides!

BarHopper23 June 15, 2023 - 9:28 pm

bud light’s takin a hit, huh? heard folks are boycotting ’em. modelo’s gainin popularity tho, especially among the younger crowd. gonna be a tight race in the beer market, that’s for sure!


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