Brewer AB InBev signals new focus on Michelob Ultra amid light beer rivalry

LONDON (Reuters) – Anheuser-Busch InBev has elevated its low calorie lager Michelob Ultra to the status of “global brand”, according to an investor presentation held on Tuesday, positioning it to better compete with Dutch rival Heineken.

The world’s largest brewer previously bestowed that title on just three of its biggest-hitting labels, Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois, as recently as Aug. 3. But presentation slides on Tuesday included Michelob Ultra, already a big hit in the U.S., in the group.

Chief Marketing Officer Marcel Marcondes added during the presentation that the company now sees Corona as its “leading horse” globally. Alcohol-free version, Corona Cero, meanwhile, will be its number one focus in the no-alcohol category.

The moves see AB InBev squaring up with rival Heineken, whose new light beer Heineken Silver is looking to win share in in the critical U.S. market, and whose Heineken 0.0% is the global market share leader in the no-alcohol category.

Light beers, which contain fewer calories and carbohydrates, are gaining traction as consumers become increasingly health conscious. AB InBev’s Bud Light previously dominated the category in the U.S., but lost its top spot following a backlash from conservatives over a social media promotion with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney.

“Michelob Ultra is obviously a top priority for us. This brand has a unique positioning in consumers’ minds, we have a proven success case and clear headroom for growth in the U.S. and beyond,” Kyle Norrington, U.S. Chief Commercial Officer said, with other speakers flagging the brand’s potential in markets like China.

Corona, meanwhile, has led growth and still has a “long runway” to go, Marcondes continued. Brian Perkins, the company’s West Europe President, added that the company would focus on Corona Cero as its number one global no alcohol beer proposition.

It also offers opportunities in markets without big drinking populations, such as Saudi Arabia, where Perkins said the brand will soon be launched.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney in London and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels; Writing by Emma Rumney and Nick Zieminski)