ST. LOUIS — Drinkers of Busch beer asked for a light version of their favorite brew, and Anheuser-Busch Inc. has obliged with Busch Light, which is being test marketed this summer in Missouri, Illinois and Texas.
Busch Light was introduced to most parts of Missouri and Illinois and in Longview, Tex., in May after several years of product development, said Jack McDonough, Anheuser-Busch vice president for brand management.
"Consumers asked us for Busch Light," McDonough said. "It was the only major brand in the country without a light partner. We've had it under development for a long time."
Busch Light became the third beer to be introduced by the brewing giant this spring, and the fourth since the introduction last fall of the popular Michelob Dry. The brewery also unveiled O'Doul's, a non-alcoholic beer, and Bud Dry.
The moves are aimed at gaining a larger share of the United States beer market. According to Beer Institute figures, Anheuser-Busch brands, which include Budweiser and Michelob and their light-beer counterparts, already account for more than half the beer sold in the United States.
With Busch Light, Anheuser-Busch is aiming at big-selling competitor Miller Lite.
"We see it as a way of grabbing more of the market we don't have," McDonough said. "I think Miller Lite is very vulnerable to a Busch Light because it is the biggest (selling light brand), but it is no longer growing. It may be the biggest, but it might be weaker."
McDonough said the giant brewery is not worried that Busch Light will woo beer drinkers away from Bud Light or Michelob Light.
"We see it as a way of grabbing more of the market we don't have," he said. "But we have a new product, and we expect that some of our current customers are going to try the product. You have to expect that."
The beer was introduced into Missouri and Illinois, where Busch is the No. 1-selling brand.
"Busch is extraordinarily strong in that territory. It would be the easiest place to expect success," McDonough said.
Missouri and Illinois also were chosen because beer drinkers in those two states are showing signs of greater consumption. Light beer accounted for just 29% of sales in the two states in 1988, but that was a 9% increase over the previous year.
There is a lot of product switching in Missouri and Illinois because light beer is "in," he said. He said that represents the best opportunity for the introduction of a new product.
However, in Texas, almost 50% of the beer sold is that of a light brand. McDonough said Texas also is a strong market for Busch, with a 35% increase in sales in that state in 1988.
Busch, which is tied for Coors Light as the fourth-best-selling brand in the nation, is sold in 41 states.
Busch Light will be priced at parity with Busch, which in St. Louis is a "near premium" price of about $3.49 for a six-pack.
McDonough also said it is too early to tell if Busch Light will be expanded to all markets in which Busch is now sold.
"There are some areas of the country where we may not want to do that," he said.
Busch Light is being advertised as having fewer calories than Busch (110 for a 12-ounce serving), but also is being touted as a "draft" beer.
Draft beer is not pasteurized but instead goes through a cold-filtration process. By making Busch Light a draft product, McDonough said, the brewery hopes to lure more curious consumers.
"Light beers at this point are very broad in their age appeal. I think age acceptance of this will be very broad," McDonough said.
However, Busch Light is not the first beer to advertise cold-filtration.
Brewers tried marketing such products in the 1960s and 1970s. Miller Brewing Co. entered the category recently with its successful Miller Genuine Draft and has led Adolph Coors Co. to advertise some of its products as draft beers.
McDonough also predicted that Busch Light may not be the end of the line for new Anheuser-Busch products.
"We are always developing new products," McDonough said. "In the last six months or so we have taken one of those products (Michelob Dry) nationally with great success, and that's focused a lot on the other new products we have. I would expect you will see more new beers in the future."