Beer belly battle

Major brewers still on low-carb wagon - but A-B questions diet 'errors'

Mar 29, 2004 - America's three largest brewers are serious about carbs — even while Anheuser-Busch's most recent Bud Light advertising pokes fun at low-carb diets.


Bud Light commercials that began airing this month point out all light beers are low in carbs, while others are part of the humorous "Real Men of Genius" rotation. One spotlights the "Mr. Over-the-top-carb-watcher," and they include gags such as a treadmill for your fingers (all that it takes to work off those extra carbs).

A-B has been the major beneficiary of the low-carb craze, which made Michelob Ultra the most successful new beer roll out ever. Miller and Coors are battling back. Miller Lite sales, long in decline, rose after the brewing company began to advertise that Lite is nearly as low in carbs as Ultra.

Now Coors has promised to put plenty of marketing dollars behind its new low-carb entry, Aspen Edge.

"Winning the low-carb battlefield is priority one because it's going to be huge. We're not going to let Anheuser-Busch run away with it," said Ron Askew, Coors' chief marketing officer. The tagline for the new ads: "So good, it doesn't even know it's low carb."

While working to cash in on low-carb interest, the big brewers must be careful. "Quite frankly the problem is the under-30 crowd doesn't want to be seen drinking (low-carb beer) because it announces that you're watching your carb count," said one distributor. He said Miller Lite has done well in part because its a mainstream brand and for "0.4 more carbs, you can drink Miller Lite and watch your carbs and not announce to the world that you're on a diet."

A-B's support of Bud Light, the No. 1 selling beer in America, hasn't stopped with new commercials. The company has mailed out two-page brochures to shareholders, wholesalers and retailers that point out what it calls common errors about beer in popular diet books, such as "The South Beach Diet" and "Suzanne Sommers' Fast and Easy."

A-B's Nathaniel Davis, a brewer, said the brochure detailed three common "errors" in low-carb diet books: Beer has a high sugar content, a high glycemic index and drinking it causes a beer belly.

"There is such a thing as a beer belly, but it doesn't have to do with beer," said Larry Lindner, a lecturer at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. "It's like thunder thighs don't come from clouds."

Diet books claim that beer is high in sugar, particularly maltose, and that beer has a high glycemic index (foods with high glycemic indexes are not appropriate for low-carb diets). A-B counters that

during fermentation, yeast consumes the maltose, converting it into alcohol. Beer contains too few carbs to be tested for glycemic index. For example, a person would have to drink more than seven Bud Lights in 15 minutes to consume the 50 grams necessary to measure the resulting blood sugar.

- More about malted barley, maltose and the "glycemic index."

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