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Bud Light is no longer America's best-selling beer. Here's why.

Inside the Bud Light-Dylan Mulvaney backlash
Bud Light and Dylan Mulvaney: Why the extreme backlash from a single social media post? 06:50

Bud Light sales plunged in May, toppling the beer brand from its longtime perch as the nation's best-selling brew.

Parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) sold $297 million worth of Bud Light for the four weeks ending May 28 — a 23% drop from the same time period the year before, according to consumer behavior data analytics firm Circana. Modelo Especial ranked No.1 in May, with $333 million in sales — a 15% increase from 2022.

The sales drop for Bud Light follows a promotion debacle with TikTok star Dylan Mulvaney, a trans rights activist and actress, that sparked an uproar among conservatives including singers Kid Rock and Travis Tritt, who called for a boycott of the popular beer. 

Anheuser-Busch's Global CEO, Michel Doukeris, said last month on an investor call that Budweiser was still experiencing conservative backlash over the episode, in part because the public mistakenly believed it had a long-term partnership with the social media influencer.

The company's attempt to distance itself from the campaign caused further backlash, this time from the LGBTQ+ community, with some bars pulling all Anheuser-Busch products from their menu.

Budweiser releases new ad amid backlash over partnership with Dylan Mulvaney 06:39

ABI did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

"Serious course correction" needed

To be sure, Bud Light is still enormously popular and has sold more cases than any competitor year to date, but the Mulvaney fiasco threatens to change that, according to Bump Williams Consulting, which tracks the alcohol industry. 

"Unless Bud Light starts to experience a serious course correction in terms of performance, which can only come from consumers finding their way back into the brand family, then that firm grip on the No. 1 rank by year-end loosens a bit more every week," Dave Williams, vice president of analytics and insights at Bump Williams Consulting, told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Williams pointed out that Bud Light had been the best-selling beer prior to May, and if it can reverse its sales decline, the brand could regain its top spot, he added.

Modelo Especial is a pilsner-style lager that began nearly 100 years ago in Mexico. Constellation Brands bought Modelo from ABI in 2013. Since then, Constellation has prioritized sales of Modelo, specifically by making sure stores never run out of stock, Williams said. 

According to Circana, the top-selling beer brands in the U.S. in May included: 

  • Modelo Especial ($333.1 million)
  • Bud Light ($297.3 million)
  • Michelob Ultra ($267.6 million)
  • Coors Light ($241 million)
  • Miller Lite ($216.4 million)

Constellation also plans to increase the brand's sales by introducing "Modelo to new consumers through increased distribution and presence at retail," a company spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch on Thursday.

Summer sales heat up competition

The next two months will be crucial for Bud Light sales as the summer ushers in more holidays and beer-drinking, Williams said. Breweries also use the summer to place more in-store displays at grocers and gas stations, he added. 

"Companies invest a lot into being front and center and top of mind during this season as there is only so much floor space to allocate; consumer money to spend and beer occasions to fulfill," Williams said. "And if a brand misses those opportunities, then that is almost impossible to fully recover that lost potential over the balance of the calendar year."

One place Bud Light won't be in short supply: Friends in Low Places, a bar in Nashville owned by country music singer Garth Brooks. 

"We're going to serve every brand of beer. We are," the star said at a live Q&A event with Billboard. "It's not our decision to make."

Brooks told the audience that he wants to encourage inclusive behavior at his bar and that those who do not wish to comply can take their business elsewhere.

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