Bud Light is reportedly buying back unsold beer that has passed its expiry date, according to The Wall Street Journal—a move which could signal a change in strategy for the iconic brand following the culture-war storm it recently found itself in.
After offering a sponsorship deal to trans activist and influencer Dylan Mulvaney in early April, sending the social media star a commemorative can celebrating the anniversary of her gender transition, Bud Light has faced a major boycott from conservatives who have accused the brand of going “woke” and alienating its own customers.
Anti-trans feelings have been growing across the U.S. in recent years, with several Republican-led states introducing legislation targeting and limiting trans rights, drag shows and trans youth access to gender-affirming health care. The issue of transgender rights has spilled into the mainstream, and has become a main feature of the so-called culture wars in America.
Bud Light’s decision to offer a paid sponsorship deal to Mulvaney, who became popular on TikTok while documenting her transition journey from male to female in her series 365 days of girlhood, was seen by many conservatives as the brand taking a clear pro-trans stance in this matter.
The controversy around Bud Light—and its parent company Anheuser-Busch—has dragged out for weeks, with the beer brand taking at least a temporary hit in sales following the calls to boycott the company.
Bud Light’s sales have fallen for more than a month since April. Anheuser-Busch sold $71.5 million worth of Bud Light in the week ending April 29, a 23 percent drop compared to a year before, according to data from Bump Williams Consulting mentioned by CBS. Sales volume for rivals Coors Light and Miller Lite were up by 17 percent and 15 percent, respectively, in the second week of May.
Now, Bud Light is reportedly buying back unsold cases of its beer that have gone past their expiration date. At the same time, the brand is leaning back on commercials that focus on themes like football and country music, hinting a return to its core customers. Bud Light’s sales are higher in rural and conservative areas of the country, and its consumers are predominantly white men.
In a statement sent to various media companies, including Newsweek, last month, Anheuser-Busch said of the deal with Mulvaney: “Anheuser-Busch works with hundreds of influencers across our brands as one of many ways to authentically connect with audiences across various demographics. From time to time we produce unique commemorative cans for fans and for brand influencers, like Dylan Mulvaney. This commemorative can was a gift to celebrate a personal milestone and is not for sale to the general public.”
A few days later, on April 14, the company’s CEO Brendan Whitworth published a statement where he said he is “responsible for ensuring every consumer feels proud of the beer we brew.”
“We have thousands of partners, millions of fans and a proud history supporting our communities, military, first responders, sports fans and hard-working Americans everywhere,” he said. “We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people. We are in the business of bringing people together over a beer.”
Anheuser-Busch’s apparent switch in strategy following the backlash can also be seen in the fate of Bud Light’s top executives. Alissa Heinerscheid, the first woman to run marketing for Bud Light in 40 years, was placed on leave following the controversy around Mulvaney’s sponsorship deal. Her boss Daniel Blake was also placed on leave.
Newsweek has contacted Anheuser-Busch for comment by email.