Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. suspended testing of its plastic beer bottle, blaming ``limited consumer interest.''
The St. Louis company launched a trial of its Budweiser and Budweiser Light brands in PET bottles in Dallas and Phoenix last month. The 16-ounce bottles were sold in convenience stores.
``The test provided valuable information that will help us, should we decide to move forward with a plastic bottle in the future,'' a company statement said.
The company has no plans at this time to resume testing. Company officials would not comment on how they measured consumer interest.
Anheuser-Busch used an oxygen-scavenger layer from Amoco Chemical Co. in a multilayer package. The amber bottles were blow molded by Mississauga, Ontario-based Amcor Twinpak-North America Inc. Officials at Twinpak could not be reached.
In the test market, the Bud plastic bottles were placed on the shelf next to beer in glass and cans. The plastic bottles cost about 30 percent more than the 16-ounce containers of other materials. The company did not do special advertising to promote the plastic bottle.
``They were charging more for the plastic bottle. Why pay more?'' asked Edgar Acosta, a consultant with Dewitt & Co. in Houston. ``My understanding is that they were charging the amount of money that the packaging would cost. That's not realistic.
``I don't think Anheuser's decision will affect beer in PET,'' Acosta added. ``If anything, this has been a positive. People are realizing that beer has to be a certain price. It gives them a target to go after. It would be great if everyone would be willing to pay 40 cents more per plastic bottle.''
A-B said it will continue its ``ongoing amber plastic recycling research.''
``This continuing research is representative of our earlier stated commitment to work with our suppliers, PET recyclers and manufacturers of various PET products, to help develop a viable market for amber plastic,'' the company said in a statement.
Company officials declined to comment further on recycling initiatives, citing the competitiveness of the industry.
Anheuser-Busch was the second big U.S. brewer to introduce a plastic beer package. Last year, Miller Brewing Co. of Milwaukee launched a PET beer bottle in six test markets — Los Angeles; Phoenix/Tucson; Norfolk, Va.; Miami; Dallas/Fort Worth; and San Antonio. Like Anheuser-Busch, Miller is selling its bottles in convenience stores and recently introduced them in sports arenas.
Miller, the second-largest brewer in the United States, is selling its plastic-bottled beer at a price similar to its other products, said spokesman Scott Bussen.
Bussen added that consumer response, measured by sales, word of mouth, consumer research and retailer response, has been so great that Miller faces a pleasant dilemma: There is more interest than the company now is able to accommodate. One Miller brand in particular, Ice House, highlights the plastic bottle in an advertisement.
The Miller bottles are blow molded by Continental PET Technologies Inc., a Florence, Ky.-based unit of Owens-Illinois Inc.
Brewers in Europe and Australia have offered beer in plastic bottles for more than a year.
``Miller and Bass and others around the world continue to sell beer in plastic,'' Acosta said. ``It's just a matter of time [before it really catches on].''
In France, executives of PET blow molding machine maker Groupe Sidel will meet next week to discuss the Busch decision, according to Richard Le Vourch, spokesman for investor relations.
Publicly traded Sidel has made bold predictions about the future of beer in plastics. Le Vourch remains bullish, but he said Sidel continues to work on reducing the price of PET beer bottles.
``All the major brewers are looking for a good plastic solution which is cheap,'' he said in a telephone inteview from Sidel in Le Havre, France.
But he said other advantages of PET bottles remain in place, including flexible production and the fact that machines to mold plastic bottles can be placed in beer production lines. Brewers have to buy glass bottles and bring them to the line.
``As Anheuser-Busch has said, the reason they have withdrawn is their plastic bottles were more expensive than the glass bottles for the consumer. It's often said that the consumer is saying that they will accept the plastic bottle if it's cheaper than a glass bottle,'' Le Vourch said.
Busch's April 20 bombshell did not impact Sidel's stock. In fact, it went up, from 75 euros ($80) the day of the announcement, to 81 euros ($86) April 23.
Senior reporter Bill Bregar contributed to this story.