Why Macro Dominates
by William Goodman, Jr.
In an era when Anheuser-Busch's flagship brands of Budweiser and Bud Light are struggling to
retain their audience. Michelob Ultra, long known for its low calorie, low carbohydrate
composition, is shaping up to be a bright spot for Anheuser-Busch InBev. Michelob Ultra sales
rose 17 percent in the last 6 months from the same period a year ago, And despite the boom
in craft beers nearly 85% of all sales still belong to the macro lagers. And worse for people
who like beer with tastes is that almost every best selling beer is a light beer. Bud Light, the
most popular brand by far, accounts for nearly one out of every four beers sold in the United
States .The nagging question is why? There are a lot of reasons; here are just a few.
In the late 1800s, the temperance movement, which pushed for moderate to no alcohol
consumption, swept across much of the Western world. In certain countries, including England,
beer was promoted as a 'temperance beverage," something that could be imbibed because it
had a lower alcohol content than spirits and wine. But when brewers tried to pitch the same
argument in the United States, it didn't work. Beer had alcohol and to the temperance crowd all
alcohol, was bad. Still, the lingering effects of the movement seemed to give many
Americans that the notion that drinking lighter beer was somehow more responsible than
drinking stronger beers.
So instead of experimenting with all types of beers, Americans tended to buy ones with the
lowest alcohol content. Because of this as far back as the late 1800s and early 1900s lighter
lagers and pilsners dominated the American beer scene.
The temperance movement reached its zenith in 1920 with the onset of Prohibition. While
drinking secretly continued in speakeasies and other such places the beverage of choice was
"bathtub gin" and other hard liquors. Beer was an afterthought at best. Some speculate it was
because drinkers wanted a faster way to intoxication since one always had to be worry about
police others think that unlike drinking clear liquor, beer consumption was harder to conceal.
Then came World War II, which essentially made it impossible for higher end beers to be made.
The grain rations and strict price controls that came with the war meant that it was simply too
expensive to produce stronger, hoppier brews. Then, when the military lifted its ban on
alcohol.soldiers received shipments of beer that was very low in alcohol. An entire army's worth
of young men, in effect, grew up with light beer. So by war's end the country was heading
toward a time when the majority of consumers would probably favor a beer pale in color and
with an agreeable, mild hop flavor without any bitter after-taste. Their number one desire was
for a beer that was refreshing; flavor took a backseat.
Since then, the trail of bland American beer is easy to trace. Anheuser-Busch InBev, Miller
Coors, and the like, have come to dominate the beer landscape in the United States. Bud Light
is the best selling beer in the country; Coors Light, the second; Budweiser is third; and Miller
Lite is fourth. As far as many analysts can tell their underlying yet powerful appeal is their very
lack of taste.
Some experts however say that the dominance of the Big Brewers has little to do with the
history of beer in the USA and more to do with the millions and million they spend on
advertising and their notoriously predatory distribution agreements.
Maybe the recent trend toward session beers will bridge the gap and help the macro fans turn
toward the world of great craft beer. For their sake I hope so.
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