NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
Anheuser-Busch Cos. is preparing to launch a low-carbohydrate beer in hopes of tapping into the dietary obsessions of health-conscious consumers, a newspaper reported Friday.
The nation's largest brewer plans to charge a premium price for Michelob Ultra, which would be the first major beer to claim it is low in carbohydrates, the Wall Street Journal reported. Anheuser-Busch hopes to capture a greater share of the high-end beer market at a time when many prefer imported beers to domestic brands such as Budweiser and Bud Light.
Anheuser-Busch launched Ultra in December in test markets in Denver, Tucson, Ariz., and Fort Myers, Fla., and widened distribution in May. The brew is set for national distribution later this month and will cost about $7 for a six-pack compared with $5 or $6 for a six-pack of Bud, the paper reported.
John Ufheil, vice president of Daytona Beverages LLC, an exclusive Anheuser-Busch distributor in Daytona Beach, told the Journal he believes he will sell a lot of Ultra. "Carbs seem to be the buzz right now if you want to be health conscious," Ufheil told the paper. "That it doesn't taste like water is a plus."
Carbohydrates are a group of organic compounds, including sugars and starches, that serve as a major dietary energy source. Their role in weight gain is a hotly debated subject, with some nutritionists saying excess carbohydrates play a direct role.
A 12-ounce bottle of Ultra has 2.6 grams of carbohydrates, compared with 6.6 grams for Bud Light, according to the Journal. The alcohol content of the two beers is the same.
Though Anheuser-Busch declines to make any health or weight-loss claims, the Journal said the company is confident weight-conscious consumers will embrace the low-carb claim. "Watching your carbs has become the symbol of a balanced diet," Dave Peacock, vice president, high-end brands for Anheuser-Busch, told the paper. "We're following consumer trends and reacting to consumer demand."
Ultra also has 95 calories, making it one of the lowest-calorie beers on store shelves.
Competitors have taken note. Miller Brewing Co., a unit of London-based SABMIller PLC, introduced a low-carb beer decades ago with Miller Lite, which has 96 calories and 3.2 grams of carbohydrates per 12-ounce serving. Miller began making low-carb claims in print ads for the beer earlier this summer. Adolph Coors Co.'s Coors Brewing unit has no plans to introduce a low-carb beer, a spokesman told the Journal.
Anheuser-Busch won't disclose its marketing budget for Ultra to the paper, but the beer is critical to the brewer's bid to boost higher-end beer sales. In late August, Anheuser-Busch announced new packaging and a $50 million ad campaign to attract 21-27-year-old beer drinkers to Michelob, which was popular in the 1980's, according to the report.
Shares of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch (BUD: Research, Estimates) rose 6 cents to $52.50 Thursday.