Anheuser-Busch InBev announced the latest extension of its wildly popular Michelob Ultra brands this week, debuting “Infusions,” naturally-flavored beers that, like the parent brand, contain only 95 calories. In November 2018 and again in February, My Beer Buzz reported that “Lime & Prickly Pear Cactus” and “Pomegranate & Agave” would be the first releases for the line’s launch, both of which sit at 4% ABV.
In its own release this week, AB InBev said that the new beers “represent the brand’s commitment to creating innovative new products” that align with consumer taste preferences, adding that the Infusions line “delivers on consumer demands for the taste of real, exotic fruits in a light beer.”
WHY IT MATTERS
Here we are, then—another update to what is arguably the most popular beer brand in America. It’s clear that there are some eye-popping numbers when it comes to alcoholic beverages that beer enthusiasts might overlook. Believe it or not, Michelob Ultra is an almost $2-billion brand, counting only package sales at IRI-tracked grocery, convenience, and other stores.
Ultra has been an unstoppable force for years, with one major distributor telling GBH last year that it’s on track to be the second- or third-biggest brand in the U.S. As of early 2019, it’s at least within striking distance of Budweiser. Launching another extension of Ultra makes great sense after the runaway success of Michelob Ultra Pure Gold, which was so big in 2018 it earned itself a head-tingling Super Bowl commercial.
In 2018—Pure Gold's inaugural year—it sold almost as much volume in IRI stores as the entire Stone Brewing portfolio. In dollar sales, it topped Samuel Adams Boston Lager. To start 2019, Ultra outsold Budweiser in dollar sales through March 10, earning $14 million more. In the same timeframe, customers spent almost $2 million more on Pure Gold than Lagunitas IPA, the best-selling IPA in the country.
Yeah, Michelob Ultra and its USDA-certified organic cousin have been doing pretty well. So well that the Ultrafication of craft breweries has firmly taken hold. Breweries all over the country are launching their own “better-for-you beers,” with Dogfish Head declaring it wants to be “recognized as the number-one active, lifestyle-oriented craft beer brand.” Ultra hasn’t just influenced drinkers, but peers and industry competitors, too.
Given broader consumer trends toward wellness and the popularity of flavored beverages, the new Ultra line of Infusions continues to check boxes that have made its predecessors so popular.
It comes at a time when beer consumption has been in something of a freefall. As previously reported by GBH, liquor (+26.1%) and wine (+16.2%) servings had strong growth from 2008–2017, the latest year of data available, while beer declined by -4.1% in that timespan. Finding success wherever possible in a category on decline is obviously a priority, and doubling down on the name power of Michelob Ultra makes good sense.
As AB InBev’s other big brands—like Bud Light and Budweiser—drop year-to-year volume, Ultra and all its variations are exactly what the company needs to infuse a little life into its bottom line.