Light Beer Weighs Down Results for Big Brewers -- WSJ

By Jennifer Maloney Features Dow Jones Newswires

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (November 2, 2017).

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The big three U.S. light-lager brands -- Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite -- are all losing volume as consumers shift to craft and Mexican import beers as well as to wine and spirits.

Molson Coors Brewing Co., which makes Miller Lite and Coors Light, said Wednesday that its U.S. sales-to-retailers volume fell 2.9% in the third quarter, compared with the year-earlier period, thanks largely to declines in the two light-beer brands. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV said last week that Bud Light, the No. 1 U.S. beer brand by volume, fared even worse, losing almost a full percentage point of market share in the three months to Sept. 30.

Combined, the country's top two brewers sold 2.6 million fewer barrels over that period, according to Beer Marketer's Insights. "That's a shocker," the industry tracker wrote Wednesday.

"I think it's safe to say that the industry had a tough summer," Gavin Hattersley, chief executive of Molson Coors's U.S. business unit MillerCoors, said on a call with analysts Wednesday.

The downward slide of American lagers isn't new. But according to Molson Coors, demand has been even more sluggish than anticipated amid a spate of hurricanes, discounted prices on spirits and changes in consumer behavior.

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"Millennials are going out less," Mr. Hattersley said.

Retail store sales of Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite are down 5.7%, 3.6% and 1.6%, respectively, this year through Oct. 21, according to Nielsen data compiled by Beer Marketer's Insights. From 2010 through 2016, overall volumes in the light-lager category fell 14% to 65 million barrels.

The silver lining, at least for Molson Coors, is that both Miller Lite and Coors Light are gaining share on market leader Bud Light.

"We're very pleased with our performance with Miller Lite, in particular, " Molson Coors CEO Mark Hunter said. "It's doing well in a declining segment."

The company's craft-style Blue Moon beer is performing well, executives said, and Molson Coors has high hopes for Sol, a brand it acquired from Heineken earlier this year to get in on the booming U.S. sales of Mexican imports, such as Corona and Modelo, distributed by competitor Constellation Brands Inc.

It's too soon to say how well Sol is doing, Mr. Hattersley said, noting that Molson Coors began selling it in October.

Meanwhile, Denver-based Molson Coors has a team looking at the potential impact legalized cannabis could have on its beer sales, as well as possible opportunities for investment, Mr. Hunter said. Constellation Brands said earlier this week that it is taking a 9.9% stake in Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth Corp. and plans to develop nonalcoholic, marijuana-infused beverages.

"I think the important thing is to make sure we don't get caught in some sort of adrenaline rush," Mr. Hunter said, noting that the beer industry has seen "relatively healthy" sales in Colorado since recreational marijuana use was legalized there.

Write to Jennifer Maloney at jennifer.maloney@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

November 02, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)