If you were watching the Super Bowl last night, you may have saw the Michelob Ultra “6 for 6-pack” commercial stating the following:
“America, less than 1% of our farmland is organic, and farmers that want to transition face monumental challenges. What if we could help them? Simply, by having a beer… pick up a six-pack, we’ll help transition six square feet of farmland to organic… And if every football fan picks up a six pack, we can change America’s organic farmland forever.”
Here is a back of the napkin calculation showing the scope of this initiative:
1 acre = 43,560 square feet
43,560 square feet / 6 square feet per six-pack = 7,260 six-packs
It takes 7,260 six-packs before 1 acre of farmland is converted to organic.
7,260 six-packs = 522,720 oz. (assuming 12 oz. bottles)
1 barrel (bbls) of beer = 3,968 oz.
522,720 oz. = 131.73 bbls
It takes 131.73 bbls of production before 1 acre of farmland is converted to organic.
Michelob Ultra barrel shipments in 2018: 8,800,000 bbls (USA Today, 2019). Now, this includes all sales, and the “6 for 6-pack” appears to only apply to Michelob Ultra Pure Gold — a sub-division of Michelob Ultra products. Pure Gold, Michelob Ultra’s certified organic beer, has provided $100 million in revenue to the company since its launch in February 2018 (Alcántara, 2020). Meanwhile, in the first half of 2019, Michelob Ultra approached $1 billion of sales (Kendall, 2019); showing how Pure Gold is a small segment of the company’s production. However, for the sake of argument, I’ll stick with the upper bound, really putting this into perspective.
8,800,000 bbls / 131.73 bbls = 66,803 acres
If the “6 for 6-pack” applied to all Michelob Ultra products across all countries, across all forms of packaging, 66,803 acres of conventional farmland could be converted to organic farmland given a year of production.
According to the National Agriculture Statistics Service of the United States Deparment of Agriculture, total farm acreage in 2018 was 899,500,000 acres (USDA, 2019), down slightly from 2017.
So, what is this total commitment amount to? Again using the total annual bbl shipments serving as an extreme upper bound:
66,803 acres/ 899,500,000 acres = 0.000074 x 100 (to get into a percentage)
“Changing America’s organic farmland forever” amounts to a maximum yearly change of approximately 0.0074% of farmland being converted from conventional to organic.
A more realistic estimate would be 1/10 of that, 0.00074%, since Pure Gold is a small fraction of total annual production. It is a catchy marketing gimmick that will grab the attention of those who prefer organic food and drink. But it is also intentionally misleading, so I feel it is important for us to put this commitment into perspective. And this is no knock on Anheuser-Busch’s commitment to sustainability (Michelob Ultra’s parent company is Anheuser Busch InBev). They are an industry leader in this movement, which includes purchasing $435 million worth of wind energy in 2017 allowing them to claim Budweiser is brewed with 100% renewable electricity (AB InBev, 2018); and purchasing 2.2 million bushels of sustainable rice at a price premium from Indigo Agriculture (Burwood-Taylor, 2019).
Organic beer is such a small fraction of the U.S. beer market, incurs higher production costs, and the literature suggests it’s not growing much more (Waldrop & McCluskey, 2018). It makes sense for Michelob Ultra (Anheuser Busch) to promote this on their already certified organic product, but I am somewhat surprised they are not focusing on promoting their larger sustainability initiatives. Organic only appeals to a niche consumer base, and is already behind other major industry trends, e.g., hard seltzer.
Overall, Michelob Ultra sales have grown exponentially since Anheuser Busch launched the product line in 2002, now the “third best selling beer brand at off-premise retail accounts” (Kendall, 2019). But I’d say this has more to do with their low-calorie and low-carb advertising; going as far as making Michelob Ultra appear as a post-workout treat. It is an appealing, light beer option, and I am all for #SustainableBrewing, but as for changing America’s organic farmland forever six square feet at a time…
Please don’t buy it.
Note : I provide rough estimates of the potential scope of this initiative due to limited access to production data estimates . If anyone on #AgTwitter or #BeerTwitter has more robust production numbers, I would love to get a more precise estimate.
Michelob Ultra Pure Gold, Michelob Ultra. Available here: https://www.michelobultra.com/