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Anheuser-Busch is returning to the low calorie UK beer market.

With the launch of Michelob Ultra in the UK, Anheuser-Busch is revisiting old ground. The move comes just two years after the brewer pulled Bud lite, a similar low calorie beer alternative. Although consumer health concerns have risen since then, success for the new variant depends on effective communication and deciphering the extent to which UK consumer attitudes to beer are changing.   

Michelob Ultra will be a 5% low calorie beer that is also low in carbohydrates. It has recently been launched in the US market using the slogan 'Lose the carbs - not the taste'. When assessing the product's functional qualities it is natural to draw comparisons with the 1999 launch of Bud lite, which was supported by a £5m advertising and marketing push.

Although details are not yet known concerning the budget available for the new variant, it is widely expected that Anheuser-Busch will require significant resources to influence the negative perceptions many beer drinkers have of light beers. Light beers have also caused significant confusion amongst consumers; many have been known to wrongly assume that it indicates lower alcohol strength rather than low calories. The difficulties of appealing to consumers have also been experienced by Coors, which was forced to pull Coors Light from UK shelves earlier this year.

Current evidence suggests that the Michelob Ultra variant is going to be launched with a more cautious approach. Anheuser-Busch is understood to have agreed an exclusive 12-week deal with Tesco to introduce the product. Critically, this will give the brewer access to Clubcard data which will allow it to develop a more detailed understanding of its target consumers' needs and, where necessary, refine its marketing strategy. It is expected that accounts with other retailers will begin in October or November. 

The remainder of this year will provide a significant indication of the extent to which UK consumers are ready to embrace light beers. Although there have been a proliferation of low calorie variants in the US and particularly Japan, the drinking culture of Britain is certainly renowned for being different. With Coors also looking to relaunch its light variant, manufacturers have clearly seen the necessary scope to capitalize on the health phenomenon that is currently influencing packaged food and drink goods globally. Whereas before the timing was too soon, it could well be that Anheuser-Busch has now got it just right.


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