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Northwest takes beer battle to new heights

Taking a marketing feud between the nation's two largest brewers to new heights, Northwest Airlines has tapped Miller Lite to replace top-selling Bud Light on all of its flights worldwide.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Taking a marketing feud between the nation's two largest brewers to new heights, Northwest Airlines has tapped Miller Lite to replace top-selling Bud Light on all of its flights worldwide.

Eagan, Minn.-based Northwest, the fourth-largest airline, said Miller Lite will be phased in aboard Northwest and Northwest Airlink-operated flights over the next several weeks as its inventories of Bud Light are depleted.

Still, Northwest will continue serving Budweiser by Miller rival Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. as its full-calorie beer on all of its flights. Northwest also still will offer up various imported brews.

Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Co., a unit of London-based SABMiller PLC, cast Northwest's switch to Miller Lite a boon as that brewer duels with Anheuser-Busch _ maker of Bud Light _ for U.S. market share.

Northwest and Northwest Airlink _ offering beverage service on roughly 2,800 of the 3,012 flights they operate worldwide to 247 cities in 23 countries _ expects to buy more than 700,000 cans of Miller Lite a year to be served aboard its 659-aircraft fleet.

Last year, Northwest and its Northwest Airlink partners _ Mesaba Airlines and Pinnacle Airlines _ carried more than 67 million passengers.

Northwest had served Miller Lite on its flights until roughly five years ago, when the airline switched to Bud Light, airline spokesman Kurt Ebenhoch said Thursday.

Among other things, Northwest made the switch because of passenger demand for "increasingly popular" Miller Lite in Milwaukee and Minneapolis, two of Northwest's biggest markets, Ebenhoch said.

With Miller's presence in Milwaukee, "Northwest also wanted to support one of our largest companies in one of our most-important U.S. markets," he said.

An executive for Miller said the brewery was "very excited" about the changeover as the company celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

"Now, adult passengers on Northwest can join us in toasting this historic milestone," said Joe Jones, Miller general manager of sales for Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Gary Goldstein, Anheuser-Busch's vice president of on-premise sales, said that while that brewer was disappointed with Northwest's decision, "we're glad to still have 50 percent distribution on Northwest and that passengers have an opportunity to drink the world's best-selling premium beer, Budweiser."