Modelo Especial, a Mexican lager, overtook Bud Light in U.S. retail dollar sales in the month ending June 3, according to Nielsen data analyzed by Bump Williams Consulting. Modelo controlled 8.4% of U.S. grocery, convenience and liquor store sales; Bud Light fell to 7.3%.
Grupo Modelo, the Mexican brewer, is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the same parent company of Bud Light.
It's a milestone in Bud Light's months-long sales decline since early April, when critics who were angered by the brewer sending a commemorative can to transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney vowed to boycott the brand. Bud Light has also faced backlash from Mulvaney's fans, who think the brand didn't do enough to support her.
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Dave William, Bump Williams' vice president of analytics and insights, said Bud Light has been the top-selling U.S. beer since 2001, and it could still retain that crown this year. He noted that Bud Light's year-to-date market share of 9% is still outpacing Modelo's, at 8%. And Bud Light's sales volumes are higher.
But Modelo appears to have the advantage, with its dollar sales increasing by double-digit percentages every week. The launch of a new light beer, Modelo Oro, in May is also boosting awareness of the brand.
Sales in bars and restaurants, which are harder to track, aren't included in the retail numbers, and Bud Light far outpaced Modelo in those venues prior to April. But David Steinman, the vice president and executive editor of Beer Marketer's Insights, said Modelo's bar and restaurant sales have been growing quickly, and it's believed that Bud Light took an even steeper sales hit in bars and restaurants than in groceries.
Bud Light's U.S. retail sales were down 24% the week ending June 3, while Modelo Especial sales were up 12%, according to Dave Williams.
Scott Scanlon, an executive vice president at the consulting firm Circana who follows the alcohol market, said Mexican imports like Modelo and Corona have been the biggest bright spots in the otherwise stagnant U.S. beer market for years.
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When Modelo first went on sale in the U.S. in the 1990s, it was primarily marketed to Hispanic drinkers, Scanlon said. It launched English-language ads in 2015 and has broadened its consumer base significantly since then. It's especially popular among younger drinkers, who like its fuller flavor, Scanlon said.
Scanlon said Modelo is already the top seller in markets like Los Angeles and Chicago, but it could still see a lot of growth ahead on the East Coast.
“Modelo was going to become the No. 1 beer brand. It was destiny because the growth numbers we are seeing and have been seeing are astonishing,” Scanlon said. “The only question was time.”
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Scanlon said the pandemic accelerated Modelo's U.S. sales, since it sees more of its sales from retail stores than from bars and restaurants. And Bud Light's missteps further accelerated its rise.
Constellation Brands, a Rochester, New York-based company, licensed to sell Modelo in the U.S. since 2013 as part of an agreement with antitrust regulators after InBev bought Grupo Modelo, said on Wednesday it has nearly doubled its marketing spending on Modelo over the past five years and continues to see a “runway for growth” in the U.S. But Bud Light will try to counter that.
Last month, InBev said it will triple its marketing spending in the U.S. this summer, with a focus on sports and music festivals. Bud Light also continues to be a high-profile sponsor of LGBTQ+ Pride events.
“For the year, Bud Light remains the number one brand in the U.S. nationally in volume and dollar sales,” an Anheuser-Busch spokesperson said Wednesday.