Blog: Olly WehringA-B and Miller - will the bickering never stop?

Olly Wehring | 5 May 2006

There are a few things guaranteed in life: death, taxes – and the odd spat between Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing, are certainly among them.

This week, Miller dismissed the ‘Here’s to Beer’ campaign – an industry-wide initiative led by A-B to promote the beer category as a whole – as only serving the interests of the Budweiser brewer. A-B had tried to garner industry support for the campaign, but has been left to handle the effort on its own as rival brewers opt to focus on their own brands.

Yesterday (4 May), St. Louis hit back, arguing that ‘Here’s to Beer’ had won industry-wide backing, pointing out that wholesalers and retailers around the country were supporting the campaign. Moreover, Bob Lachky, the A-B executive in charge of the campaign, was quick to point out that rival wholesalers were putting their weight behind the initiative and insisted the marketing drive did not need the endorsement of other brewers.

The campaign is a personal crusade for Lachky, the man behind many of A-B’s marketing successes in the past. He is adamant that ‘Here’s to Beer’ is working, with the domestic beer category up during the early part of this year and beer beginning to win back share of throat against wine and spirits in some US states.

A-B has been less bullish, however, about last week’s revelations in the Wall Street Journal that the brewer had changed the recipes to Budweiser and Bud Light in recent years. The WSJ – the second most read paper in the US – quoted A-B chairman August A. Busch as saying that he ordered more hops to be added to the beers. This admission comes after A-B had repeatedly denied Miller’s claims that it had changed the recipe for Budweiser and Bud Light.

Naturally, Miller was delighted at A-B’s ‘confession’ and the giddiness in Milwaukee must have reached record highs last week, as Miller sent a plane flying over A-B’s St. Louis HQ with a banner that read: “Sire, sire, pants on fire” (No, I didn’t get it either).

It was a stunt that left A-B employees scratching their heads in bewilderment but maybe Miller shouldn’t be so hasty in revelling in others’ discomfort. A-B saw domestic volumes rise 4.6% during the first quarter of the year, the first signs of a turnaround from last year’s disappointing performance. Meanwhile, Miller’s parent, SABMiller, revealed in a trading update last month that Miller sales-to-retailers were down 1% for the year to 31 March.

SABMiller reveals its full financial figures for the year on 18 May – only then will we really discover if it has been left with egg on its face.


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