The nation's biggest brewer is adding a twist of lime to its flagship brew Bud Light to help add some fizz in the face of stagnant demand.
Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. will launch Bud Light Lime nationwide in May, just before the season for barbecues and backyard parties. The company will roll out the drink with a $35 million marketing campaign featuring TV ads and outdoor signs, said Marlene Coulis, Anheuser-Busch's vice president of consumer strategy and innovation.
The new drink came after years of consumer research that showed customers wanted the occasional flavored drink for special occasions, Coulis said. The company is making every effort not to dilute the brand loyalty for Bud Light, she said.
"We believe that one of the best ways to complement a powerful, distinct brand family is to align with what your consumers are looking for," she said.
Anheuser-Busch officials said last month they are undertaking a major effort to boost revenue from the company's core brands in the United States as consumers have increasingly turned to craft beers and cocktails. Chief Financial Officer W. Randolph Baker said the effort will include a media blitz and a 40 percent increase in the company's sales force.
Bud Light's growing popularity has propelled Anheuser-Busch's U.S. sales for years, said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights. Last year Bud Light sales were up 800,000 barrels while Budweiser sales were down 1.2 million barrels, he said.
Bud Light Lime joins a number of similar drinks such as Miller Brewing Co.'s "Miller Chill," which has lime and salt flavors to mimic a popular Mexican drink called a "chelada." Anheuser-Busch's Budweiser & Clamato Chelada and Bud Light & Clamato Chelada mix the beer with tomato juice.
The Bud Light Lime strategy has its risks, Steinman said.
"You want to certainly maintain the identity of the brand that you have already established. You don't want to dilute its brand equity, and you certainly don't want to alienate your core drinkers," he said.
"The plus side is that you have instant brand recognition," he said. "People will understand the Bud Light Lime concept very quickly."
The new drink will sell at a premium price of $1 to $1.50 more a six-pack. That price doesn't necessarily reflect the cost of pure lime juice added to each bottle, but the price consumer are willing to pay for a more upscale drink.
"It all boils down to the fact that this is a drink (consumers) would expect to pay more for," she said.
Steinman didn't want to guess how well the new drink might be received. But he noted that past spinoffs like Bud Ice, Bud Dry and Bud Select have all created an initial boost in sales that eventually receded.
"They get a good initial pop on a lot of these brands," he said.