The merger of Anheuser-Busch and InBev has helped deliver two of the biggest successes in the alcohol category, with Budweiser and Stella Artois 4% reporting massive sales growth over the past year, according to The Grocer's Britain's 100 Biggest Alcohol Brands survey.

Budweiser, which before the acquisition of Anheuser-Busch by InBev in 2008 had falling sales, has achieved a massive £54.5m increase in sales to £186.8m [Nielsen 52w/e 20 March 2010].

Budweiser marketing director for Western Europe James Watson attributed the growth to increased promotions, new SKUs and "a massively increased year-on-year investment".

The 'Good Times' campaign for Budweiser, which started in August, was its biggest-ever outdoor and press ad campaign. The added promotions on Budweiser have helped push volume sales up 57%, well above the 41.2% increase in value.

The biggest alcohol brand in the UK, AB InBev's Stella Artois, also posted strong growth, adding £26.4m to its sales.

But it is the lower-abv Stella Artois 4% that has really stolen the limelight with 130.2% growth equating to an extra £36.4m in sales. AB InBev president Stuart MacFarlane said the success of Stella Artois 4% had had a "halo effect on the overall brand".

It also allowed AB InBev to move advertising for the whole brand away from the 'Reassuringly Expensive' message in a recession, he said. The average price of four 440ml cans of Stella 4% is £3.36 compared with £4.10 for standard Stella [Brand View 17 March 2010], which has further boosted its appeal.

By contrast, Molson Coors' Carling and Grolsch brands saw value sales fall 11.2% and 39.5% respectively. Sales director John Heynen said this was a result of a deliberate strategy to reduce promotional activity. "We set out 18 months ago to focus on value ahead of volume with an ambition to ensure the beer category is well invested, innovative and profitable," he said.

Gallo Family Vineyards has taken a similar approach. Gallo has cut its on-promotion sales 5%, whereas the overall level of promotional activity in wines rose, and has delisted some SKUs to focus on profitability. Sales have fallen by £56.7m to £166.2m.

The alcohol category as a whole has had a largely positive year. Off-trade volumes across the top 100 brands have risen 3.5%, while value has risen 7.5% to £8.3bn although much of this growth can be attributed to cost and duty hikes.

Biggest risers and fallers (sales)
Biggest rise (%) Stella 4% +130.2%
Biggest rise (£) Budweiser +£54.5m
Biggest fall (%) Grolsch 39.5%
Biggest fall (£) Gallo Family Vineyards £56.7m