A brawl is breaking out in the beer aisle as retailers reshuffle shelf space following the Bud Light fiasco – and America’s oldest brewery is fighting to keep its footing against the big conglomerates, The Post has learned.
DG Yuengling & Son says supermarkets and convenience stores have regularly sold out of its brew since Bud Light’s catastrophic tie-up with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney in April — making it the fourth fastest growing beer brand in the US, according to data from Bump Williams Consulting and NielsenIQ.
Sales jumped 22% year to date through Sept. 9 across the 26 states where Yuengling is sold, according to the research firm. The Pottsville, Pa.-based company’s top-selling beer, Yuengling Lager, soared by 80% in the four-week period ended Sept. 9 compared to a year ago. Sales of Bud Light during the same period tumbled 27%.
“Yuengling is largely out of stock in the markets it’s available in and deserves more distribution and shelf space because consumer demand is higher today than what retailers have given them,” Bump Williams, CEO of the consulting firm, told The Post.
Nevertheless, Yuengling’s torrid growth has lately hit a wall. Dick Yuengling, the company’s chief executive and fifth-generation owner, claims bigger brands have been trying to squeeze in on its shelf space, even as some distributors have been exerting pressure to push its famously low prices higher.
“We just want our fair share of the Bud Light debacle,” 80-year-old Yuengling told The Post. “We are the little guy on the block so we have to fight harder, but how do we grow if they don’t give us more shelf space?”
The problem is twofold, according to Yuengling: Distributors aren’t replenishing its beers fast enough at stores, with some retailers out of stock for up to three days. Meanwhile, stores haven’t yet given Yuengling more footage on their shelves amidst an epic battle between big beer brands — foremost among them Anheuser-Busch — to grab more than 20% of beer drinkers who have switched away from Bud Light.
The jockeying for shelf space has created a “very aggressive selling environment,” Yuengling’s chief operating officer David Casinelli told The Post, adding that Anheuser-Bush is tapping into its deep pockets to maintain its positions in stores.
“Within the letter of the law, I think they are using all of their resources, rebating, discounts — they are the largest brewer in the world,” Casinelli said. “They are advertising, doing marketing consumer research. If there’s anything beyond that, I wouldn’t know.”
Anheuser-Busch did not respond to requests for comment.
Yuengling worries that its 194-year-old, family-owned business could be outgunned by conglomerates including Anheuser-Busch – which on top of Bud Light owns nearly two dozen brands including Michelob Ultra and Natural Light – and Constellation Brands, owner of Corona and Modelo Especial, which has lately unseated Bud Light as the US’s No. 1 selling beer.
Yuengling produced 2.2 million barrels of beer last year and believes it could produce another 500,000 if retailers and distributors up their investment in the scrappy brand.
“If we go into next year and nothing changes on the shelf, then you scratch your head and wonder what’s going on,” Casinelli added. “We know [Anheuser-Busch] is not going to make it easy for anyone else.”
In most stores, Yuengling gets about five feet of shelf space for some five varieties of its beer. It wants another three feet. Retailers this month are tweaking their beer allotments – known as a ‘reset’ in the industry – and will do so again and more significantly in the spring when they examine the previous 12 months of sales.
Molson Coors, which owns Miller Lite, is “gaining significant amounts of shelf space at dozens of major US retailers,” CEO Gavin Hattersley told investors last week, adding that one of the brewer’s 10 retailers is adding 48 more units of its beer per store this fall while another is adding 22 units.
Yuengling is also facing a price increase from some of its distributors, which would raise its prices at stores and potentially turn off some customers, the chief executive said. One distributor has proposed a $1.36 price increase for a case, which sells for between $21 and $23.
“Every time you raise prices people switch brands,” Yuengling said. “We are voicing our displeasure.”
But in the end, Yuengling has little control over whether retailers give it more space in their stores. That’s also true of Yuengling’s 480 distributors, who are Molson-Coors and Miller partners, and whether they distribute more of its beers and raise their prices against Yuengling’s wishes.
“When you sign on with a distributor, he owns your brands and there are only two distributors in most markets,” Yeungling said.
“The big [breweries] get the most space in stores,” Casinelli added. “We are all fighting to see what we can get and Bud Light is not exactly rolling over and saying ‘sure take our space.’ They are doing everything in their power to hold onto their shelf space.”