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Heineken eyes light beer opportunity while Bud Light sales wane

In the wake of AB InBev’s Bud Light brand falling from favour, Heineken is rumoured to be getting behind promoting Heineken Silver in the US.

According to reports, Heineken had seen an opportunity in the US market’s light beer category prior to the recent backlash against its Bud Light promotion with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney and is set to move quickly this year to win over US consumers.

Heineken USA’s chief executive Maggie Timoney told Reuters that there is room for the Heineken Silver brand to grow among “premium” lagers and that Heineken plans to win over Americans with more than two million free samples this year, most notably during its partnership with the US Open tennis and as title sponsor of the Las Vegas Formula One Grand Prix

The troubled AB InBev, which still currently dominates the light beer category with Bud Light, has seen US sales of the beer brand drop more than 20% since it faced criticism in April. To reduce the backlash, the company is also reported to be buying back unsold Bud Light beers which have passed their expiry date, following news it has also lost its top LGBTQ+ rating from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Also falling from favour within the light beer category, Molson Coors has recently endured a backlash from consumers following its Miller Lite campaign which addressed the beer industry’s previous representation of women and faced extreme criticism after being recirculated online.

However, despite the opportunities present for Heineken to step in and claim the light beer crown, there are rumblings among industry analysts suggesting that the feat might not be as simple as it seems.

For instance, in recent data from Euromonitor International, sales volumes of established light brands have reportedly plummeted at a faster pace than the US beer category as a whole over the past six years due to craft beers and hard seltzers effectively stealing market share. Despite the dip, Euromonitor International revealed that sales of light beers still make up nearly half of the US beer market and generated US$118 billion in 2022. Amidst the prowl for a bigger slice of the US market, the Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates has snapped up a 3.76% stake in Heineken and was cited as having said: “When I end up at something like a baseball game I drink light beer to get with the vibe of all the other beer drinkers.”

Heineken recently reported higher-than-anticipated profit in 2022 and forecasts a further profit increase for 2023 and revealed operating profit grew 24.0% organically driven by the volume recovery in Asia Pacific and Europe, but not necessarily the US market.

Despite Heineken’s bold plans, Euromonitor drinks analyst Spiros Malandrakis has queried the decision and hinted that younger consumers were already looking to other categories, like ready-to-drink cocktails, to replace beer. Malandrakis observed: “This is a bit of a hazy proposition and it’s fighting an uphill battle”. Additionally, echoing similar thoughts, Bernstein Research drinks analyst Trevor Stirling said that the Heineken still needed to work at shedding the impression it was a brand that “your Dad or Grandad drank” and, speaking about Heineken Silver, added: “This liquid could have more appeal to US consumers, but it will need a lot of work to get people to reconsider the Heineken brand.”

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