AB is launching a carb-free beer. Is this the next big thing? | Local company

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ST. LOUIS – Anheuser-Busch will launch its first zero-carb beer this week. The brewery needs it to be a winner.

Bud Light Next is a pale colored champagne, fizzy like soda water, only 80 calories and a world of hope for AB.

The company is counting on her to bring back the young drinkers who have flocked to seltzers and spirits, and, perhaps, lift the world’s biggest brewer out of a tough decade. Revenues are stable. The market share is collapsing. And he’s seen other offerings — Bud Light Lime and Bud Light Platinum, for example — fizzle.

Now he tries again. And Anheuser-Busch is pulling out all the stops to make it work: the new beer is rolling out with an ad in the Super Bowl, America’s biggest stage.

“It’s a big bet,” said Benj Steinman, president of trade publication Beer Marketer’s Insights.

It’s a moment of 10 years in the making. The idea of ​​brewing a carb-free beer first sprouted after Anheuser-Busch executives spent a week at Stanford University in California brainstorming the company’s approach to innovation. company, recalled former head of the North American division Dave Peacock. It immediately made sense as a marketing concept, with drinkers watching their waistlines and ditching beer for spirits. And there was precedent: Michelob Ultra, the first commercially available low-carb beer, is now the fastest growing beer in the industry.

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There was only one blockage. Much of what a drinker tastes in a beer is the flavor and mouthfeel of the non-fermentable polysaccharides — or carbohydrates — said Matt McCarroll, director of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s fermentation institute. Replacing them and keeping the beer tasting like beer was a difficult task.

Or, as Peacock said, “It’s very hard to do.”

But after 10 years and 130 prototypes, the brewers believe they have succeeded. The result is a very, very light beer that smells of fruit, fizzes – but not too much – and blurs the line between beer and seltzer.

Anheuser-Busch doesn’t distribute the exact formula of what’s inside – the only clue is a note on the box stating it contains “natural flavors and fruit juice for color”.

“A risky decision”But the biggest mystery is whether it will sell. AB thinks so. Paul Scholz, Head of Brand Innovation for Bud Light, said the new beer fits perfectly into today’s free-flowing, event-driven lifestyle of twenty-somethings. They want a different taste than they get from traditional beer and something that won’t weigh them down like a full-strength Budweiser or craft beer.

Industry watchers are not yet sold. David “Bump” Williams, who runs a consulting firm in Connecticut, said he only knows one thing for certain: AB will get the word out and hand out the beer in front of people. After 45 seconds of expensive Super Bowl advertising, it will be on billboards, lighting up social media and in the usual barrage of TV, digital and radio ads.

“It’ll be everywhere,” Williams said. “Everyone will try.”

But after that, Williams said, the question will be who will buy it again.

Scholz, Bud Light’s chief innovation officer, said the company hopes new sales will come from customers who are not currently drinking AB products. Steinman of Beer Marketer’s Insights said the company probably wouldn’t mind taking market share from Bud Light since the new beer, which has 30 fewer calories than its namesake, commands a higher price. . But Steinman said the money could also come from people currently drinking the 2.6-carb Michelob Ultra, AB’s fastest-growing brand of beer. “And that has been his shining star,” he said.

Seltzer and spirits, which also contain 0 carbs, can bury it. Rising inflation could also wreak havoc and push drinkers towards cheaper options.

“I think it’s a risky move,” Williams said. But, he added, “AB InBev is doing its homework”.

And the largest brewer in the world was just before.

It launched Michelob Ultra 20 years ago as a new low-carb light beer, and it’s now the No. 2 brand in the country.

But that’s an outlier in the 21st century. Bud Light Lime and Bud Light Platinum dropped after the first surges. Bud Light Seltzer, launched last year, has been a success so far, but growth in its category is likely to be meteoric.

And this time AB already has a low carb beer.

Bud Light Next goes on sale nationwide on Monday.

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