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Bud Light sales drop, forces glass plant to cut production

May 27, 2023

New documents obtained by WRAL News show a drop in Bud Light sales forced a glass plant in Wilson to cut down bottle production starting in May.

With Bud Light's huge drop in sales, last week, the plant's owner, the Ardagh group, announced it would be shutting down the factory in Mid-July, laying off close to 400 employees.

In a statement last Thursday, the company told the Ruston leader in Lousiana that the Wilson plant is closing, along with the Ruston plant, which employs 245 people. The statement doesn't identify a specific reason for the closures, only calling them part of a "Multi-year Performance Optimization Program."

"Since April, we've had a couple of machines down," said James Munhall, Journeyman Machine Repair Mechanic. "It was, of course, being pointed towards the Bud Light situation."

WRAL News obtained an internal memo from the Wilson plant manager dated May 18. it says, "Due to slow sales with Anheuser Inbev," two of the factory's production lines would be shutting down. Multiple longtime employees at the Wilson plant say most of their business was making bottles for Budweiser and bud light.

Industry data shows Bud light's sales fell 24% during May after a nationwide boycott over the brand's partnership with a transgender influencer.

At a meeting at the Wilson glass plant last Wednesday, employees say the plant manager told them that boycott was forcing them to shut down.

"Because of Budweiser no longer selling the bottles, they no longer needed our product," said David Williams, Machine Repair Mechanic.

However, some workers feel there are other issues at hand.

"Personally, I don't believe this is all a Bud Light thing, I believe it's the industry itself," said Munhall.

In a February earnings call before the Bud Light controversy, Ardagh's CEO said fourth-quarter earnings in Europe and Africa were up 110% compared to the year before, while

North America saw a 9% drop in shipments and falling revenue. The CEO said Ardagh would be closing some plants in the near future.

"Following completion of the turnaround program, we will operate a lower number of furnaces than at present," said Paul Coulson Ardagh Group. "However these furnaces will on average, be larger in scale and more efficient."

Employees at the Wilson plant say their union is negotiating a severance package from management, but for many, this was their second plant closed by Ardagh in the past decade, and they don't know where they'll find another good-paying union job.

"They're descendants of the family that's also worked in the industry," Munhall said. "Not only are you killing an employee's job, you're killing his family. His chances at sending his kids to college."

Inbev's CEO said last month that the sales drop impacted frontline workers. He added that the company has even financially supported frontline teams and wholesalers. It wasn't clear if that included suppliers such as Ardagh.