Leading US brewer, Anheuser-Busch, will unveil a $50m re-launch for its Michelob and Michelob Light brands next month. The company's goal is to expand its presence at the higher end of the beer market currently dominated by imports.

The campaign is primarily targeting 21 to 27 year olds, a departure for Michelob which has traditionally been aimed at older, more affluent consumers. The re-launch will include new advertising and new packaging. The brand's well known teardrop-styled bottle is being replaced with a sleeker, high-shouldered bottle similar to those generally used by RTD brands.

With the re-launch of Michelob, Anheuser-Busch is aiming to make headway in the super-premium category. In spite of controlling almost half of the US beer market with its Budweiser and Bud Light brands, the company is less well represented in the higher priced and more profitable niches.

Statistics from Information Resources Inc. highlight how Michelob has struggled while imported brands have prospered. In the year to July 14, Michelob case sales fell by 7.2% with Michelob Light's sales rising by 4.2%. Over the same period, Heineken was up 13.4% while Corona Light sales increased by 20.4%.

According to industry estimates, Michelob and Michelob Light shipments have fallen from 10m barrels in 1980 to a little over 5m barrels today. Its market share has declined from a peak of 5.8% in 1981 to 2.4% in 2001.

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Beer - USA

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"The biggest reason Michelob has been underperforming is that we haven't been very consistent with our marketing support," said Lachky. "I'm not sure we can compete against imports that have been here for 40 or 50 years. But we need to put our best foot forward."