Why Middlebrow Beers Are Suffering Through the Recession

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Maybe it's time for Bud Light ads to focus on its beers' buyability.

Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite are suffering from one of their worst months in years. Harry Schuhmacher, publisher of Beer Business Daily said he's "never seen so much red ink on a spreadsheet in all my years in this business." It's summer, people! What's going on?

Sounds like another episode of the middlebrow squeeze.

Targeting high- and low-end consumers is all the rage these days, as James Surowiecki pointed out in this amusing New Yorker column that juxtaposed the triumphs of Apple and Ikea. In an economy where sales are holding up at H&M and Hermes, the losers are all at the mushy median. Sony, Dell, and General Motors -- the icons of the consumerist Center -- are all suffering as the Big Middle dissolves at both ends.

That's exactly what's happening in the beer biz, too. The only major brands to post gains in the last month were Keystone Light, Modelo Especial, Yuengling and Pabst Blue Ribbon. If you haven't heard of some of those beers, it's probably because you've been avoiding your village dive bar. At Happy Hour, those brews shouldn't cost much more than a Ginger Ale. As Ad Age explains,

In many cases, [consumers are] opting for cheaper brews, or saving their consumption for a special occasion by splurging on craft-style beers. As a result, the "premium" lights are being squeezed by moves in both directions.

There's also the fact that key beer-guzzling constituencies, like the 18-21-35 crowd, are facing the worst economic downturn in half a century.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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