Too Cold for a Cold One? Big Beer Companies Blame Mother Nature for Slumping Sales

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Does bad weather correlate with less drinking? Well, perhaps it does with certain kinds of drinking. Unseasonably cold weather in Brazil, Europe and the U.S. is being blamed as one of the reasons sales are down in early 2013 for Bud Light, Miller Lite, Heineken and other mass-produced brews favored at picnics and tailgates.

As more drinkers turn to craft beer, spirits and wine, they’ve been snubbing the ubiquitous brews that have been featured in TV ads for decades. Budweiser, the “king of beers,” saw sales decline 4.4% in 2011, for example, followed by another dip of around 6% last year.

So the recent reports indicating that Anheuser-Busch InBev’s sales volume in the U.S. declined 5% in the first quarter of 2013 don’t come as much of a surprise. Neither does the news, highlighted in an AdAge story, that A-B InBev’s flagship Bud and Bud Light brands were down 7.7% and 6%, respectively, for the four-week sales period ending April 13. Miller Lite sales, meanwhile, declined 8.8% during that same four-week span, and Coors Light and Heineken experienced sales decreases as well.

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Yet even as diminishing sales for these well-known brands clearly seem to be part of a larger trend that’s been in the works for years as consumer tastes change, beer manufacturers are pointing to poor weather, higher taxes and rising gas prices as reasons why sales are down.

In late April, Heineken CFO Rene Hooft Graafland told analysts that bad weather in Europe and North America was partially to blame for the brand suffering a 4.7% global sales slump at the end of last year. This week, Carlos Brito, CEO of A-B InBev, the world’s largest beer company, said sales were down thanks to poor weather and food inflation in Brazil, as well as higher gas prices and weather in early 2013 that was considerably colder in the U.S. than the previous year.

Indeed, weather does seem to play a factor in sales of certain beers. “Light lagers [like Bud Light and Miller Lite] are more susceptible to unseasonably cold weather than either craft beer or spirits, which are typically imbibed more indoors,” Harry Schuhmacher, editor of Beer Business Daily, explained to AdAge via e-mail.

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But so-so weather is hardly the only reason big-beer sales have been hurting. In a report released on Monday (quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Bernstein Research senior analyst Trevor Stirling wrote, “A-B InBev’s core issue in our view is that its brands have failed to capture the imagination of key demographics such as young women and aspirational young men who have instead beaten a path to the spirits and wine categories, as well as craft beer and imports.”