Budweiser’s New Pitch: Less Beer, Pay More

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Anheuser-Busch / PRNewsFoto

How’s this for a sales pitch: With Budweiser’s new can design, you’ll get less beer, and you’ll get to pay more per ounce. You’ll also get to support the aluminum industry.

Anheuser-Busch is messing with the classic 12-ounce can. Starting in May, Bud will be available in a new “bowtie”-shaped can, which is angled inward in the center, mimicking the vertical Budweiser logo created in 2011. Each of the new cans contains 137 calories of beer, 8.5 fewer calories than the usual can of Bud. And how is Anheuser-Busch lowering the per-beer calorie count? Easy! It is putting less beer inside each can. Bowtie cans, which will be sold in addition to regular cans rather than replacing them, will hold 11.3 ounces of beer.

The “shrink ray,” as the advocacy site Consumerist.com calls it, has been applied to all sorts of products over the years. Cereal boxes, bags of chips, orange juice containers, plastic soda bottles, ice cream cartons—these and countless other goods have been carefully redesigned so that manufacturers can create the illusion consumers are getting the same amount of product, even as the packages hold less than the previous models. It’s a way for manufacturers to boost revenues without appearing — to the average consumer, at least — to raise prices.

(MORE: Think There Are a Lot of Craft Breweries Out There? Just You Wait)

Now Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s biggest beermaker, is pointing the shrink ray at the iconic can of Bud. The company isn’t marketing the new can design this way, of course. Here’s the spin presented to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“We know there are a large number of consumers out there looking for new things, the trend-seekers,” Anheuser-Busch’s vice president of innovation Pat McGauley told the Post-Dispatch. “We expect both our core beer drinkers and new customers to try it.”

It seems like A-B doesn’t expect beer drinkers to do math, however. The new cans will be sold in 8-packs rather than the standard 6-pack; this will make it more difficult for shoppers to make quick apples-to-apples price comparisons in stores. The new can will also be made of nearly double the amount of aluminum as the usual can, so that it will feel a little heavier in one’s hand. Yes, in a tricky bit of packaging ingenuity, the can with 11.3 ounces of beer won’t feel any lighter than the can holding 12 ounces of beer.

To Anheuser-Busch, this qualifies as “innovation.” “We’ve done a lot of innovation in products and we’ve been lagging in packaging,” McGauley told the Post-Dispatch. “We’re consciously working to bring innovation to the packaging side.”

(MORE: Strange Brew: When the Bottle Matters More Than the Beer Inside)

This is hardly the first time beermakers have put the focus on new cans or bottles, rather than the product inside. Coors Light, Miller Lite, and others have come in all sorts of aluminum beer bottles, and some designs feature a “grip can,” with raised ink designed to resemble the feel of a football.

Two newish Anheuser-Busch products—Bud Light Platinum and Beck’s Sapphire—were purposefully created to come in atypical, eye-catching bottles that stand apart from the pack. When the packaging matters more than the beer, that doesn’t say a lot about the beer, of course.

But the beermaker seems game for trying almost anything to boost sales—especially among young people, and especially for its signature brew, Budweiser. Bud sales have been plummeting for years, as younger drinkers especially have increasingly demonstrated a preference for wine, craft brews, and hip vodkas and other spirits.

(MORE: How Budweiser Is Trying to Lose Its Stale Image and Appeal to Younger Drinkers)

Given that many younger drinkers seem disinclined to chose Budweiser, maybe they’ll like the new bowtie cans. After all, there’s less Bud to drink inside each one.