By Jack Phillips
Beer giant Anheuser-Busch confirmed Thursday it will lay off some of its employees in the midst of a months-long boycott against Bud Light after its decision to promote a transgender influencer earlier this year.
Anheuser-Busch told CNN and other news outlets that it would be cutting some of its corporate employees and that a restructuring will be implemented to “simplify and reduce layers within its organization.” Without providing more details, Anheuser-Busch said the layoffs won’t include frontline workers such as “brewery and warehouse staff, drivers, and field sales, among others.”
The statement did not say whether the layoffs will impact Bud Light’s corporate division. But the new job eliminations will signify “less than 2 percent” of Anheuser-Busch’s staff in the United States, according to the company. Reports indicated that about 380 employees would be terminated of the company’s some 19,000 U.S. workforce.
“Today we took the very difficult but necessary decision to eliminate a number of positions across our corporate organization,” Anheuser-Busch CEO Brendan Whitworth said Thursday. “While we never take these decisions lightly, we want to ensure that our organization continues to be set for future long-term success.”
Mr. Whitworth said the layoffs would include corporate and marketing roles at U.S. offices in St. Louis, New York, and Los Angeles, reported the Wall Street Journal.
In the ensuing weeks and months, Bud Light’s sales have consistently dropped year-over-year. For the months of May and June, Bud Light lost its No. 1 spot in terms of sales to Modelo Especial, a Constellation Brands-owned beer.
It all started when Bud Light made a beer can that was sent to Dylvan Mulvaney, a transgender activist and TikTok personality who displayed the cans prominently on social media as part of an NCAA basketball tournament promotion. A large number of conservative influencers, celebrities, and news websites were aghast and called for a boycott of the brand.
In the fallout of the advertisement campaign, Anheuser-Busch said it put two employees on leave. They were identified as Alissa Heinerscheid, vice president of marketing for Bud Light, and Daniel Blake, Budweiser’s vice president for marketing.
In a single week ending July 15, sales for Bud Light were down 26.1 percent and 29.7 percent in volume, representing a larger drop than the previous week, according to NielsenIQ sales data that was provided to news outlets.
In the meantime, other beer companies such as Miller Lite, Coors Light, Yuengling, and Modelo have increasingly taken up Bud Light’s share of sales. Since April, Yuengling Light Lager has seen an 89.3 percent increase in sales year-over-year for the week ending July 9, according to the data, which was compiled by Bump Williams Consulting.
“The Fourth of July is the biggest beer holiday in terms of retail sales and an opportunity to move a lot of volume,” Dave Williams, vice president of Bump Williams Consulting, told the New York Post several weeks ago. “And there has been no notable signs where the course has changed for Bud Light.”
Conservative media outlets and social media influencers, meanwhile, have called on Bud Light to apologize over the incident, or at the very least, directly respond to the controversy. The brand instead attempted to pivot by producing advertisements with well-known sports figures, Americana, popular U.S. tourist destinations, and imagery of Clydesdale horses.
Mr. Whitworth, in a comment to CBS News last month, said that “as we move forward, we want to focus on what we do best, which is brewing great beer for everyone, listening to our consumers, being humble in listening to them, making sure that we do right by our employee, take care and support our partners, and ultimately make an impact in the communities that we serve.”
“Over the last month we’ve talked to over 100,000 consumers and their feedback is very clear. What is it? The feedback is to reinforce what Bud Light has always meant to them, which is good times goodwill, and easy enjoyment,” Mr. Whitworth also said. The CEO added that the firm would continue to back the LGBT community in the wake of the backlash.
In the immediate aftermath of the boycott calls, Mr. Whitworth said that the firm was trying to bring “people together over a beer.”
“We never intended to be part of a discussion that divides people,” he said. “Moving forward, I will continue to work tirelessly to bring great beers to consumers across our nation.”
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 presidential candidate, announced that his administration was considering legal action against Anheuser-Busch and AB InBev in response to the financial impact of the ill-fated advertisement campaign. Since April 1, AB InBev’s shares have declined about 11 percent overall.