Marlboro Selling $2.3B of Stocks in Beer Company After Woke Backlash

By: Julia Mehalko | Published: Apr 06, 2024

Altria Group, the company that owns and produces Marlboro cigarettes, is selling its shares in Anheuser-Busch InBev. AB InBev is the parent company of Bud Light.

Altria Group has announced its intent to sell, stating that it will sell about $2.3 billion of its AB InBev shares. This announcement comes about one year after Bud Light experienced a huge backlash from American consumers over its so-called woke partnerships.

Selling Shares

Altria Group currently has about 197 million shares in AB InBev. The group will not be selling all of its shares or stakes in Bud Light’s parent company. Instead, it’s only selling about 35 million shares.

An up-close look at the Altria Building, of the Altria Group, seen in the daytime.

Source: Eden, Janine and Jim/Wikimedia Commons

However, Altria Group does also have the option of selling an additional 5.25 million shares, if it chooses to do so.


Billions in Shares

Upon the market’s closure on Wednesday when this move was announced, the 35 million shares Altria Group said it would sell were worth about $2.3 billion.

An up-close look of the Wall Street sign on a light pole in New York City.

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Altria currently has a 10% state in AB InBev after first becoming a shareholder in the company in 2016.

AB InBev’s Plan

According to new reporting, AB InBev plans to buy back about $200 million worth of the shares that Altria is selling.

A Bud Light artistic light of a truck and palm trees seen against a black background.

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While most people may know that AB InBev is the parent company of Bud Light, the company also owns Stella Artois beer brands, as well as Corona, Beck’s, and Leffe.

Altria and AB InBev

While some may be quick to state that Altria is trying to distance itself from AB InBev after Bud Light’s backlash last year, the company’s chief executive Billy Gifford has explained that this move only helps both companies.

A Budweiser can in the sand at a beach with the ocean seen behind it.

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According to Gifford, this sale is “an opportunistic transaction that realizes a portion of the substantial return on our long-term investment.”

Ongoing Confidence

Gifford also took the time to talk about how the group has “ongoing confidence” in AB InBev in the long term. Therefore, the group likely is moving past Bud Light’s controversy — even if that controversy did hurt sales.

A close-up of a blue Bud Light can on a gray surface.

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“Our continued investment reflects ongoing confidence in ABI’s long-term strategies, premium global brands and experienced management team,” Gifford explained.


Bud Light’s Backlash

In 2023, Bud Light faced massive backlash in the United States after it partnered up with TikTok trans influencer Dylan Mulvaney. On TikTok and social media, Mulvaney posted about her partnership with the beer brand.

Many different beer bottles on shelves on a wall.

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Almost immediately, backlash ensued. Many anti-LGBTQ+ organizations called Bud Light out for partnering with Mulvaney.


Bud Light’s “Woke” Allegations

Other, more conservative-leaning critics claimed that Bud Light was going woke by working with Mulvaney. As Bud Light previously was known as a more masculine beer brand, some consumers didn’t agree with this marketing move.

A close-up of the tops of many beer bottles.

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These conservative groups felt that Bud Light was becoming woke, which they couldn’t support. Quite quickly, this led to many calling for a boycott of the beer.


Boycotting Bud Light

On social media, many agreed with this boycott. Even celebrities such as Kid Rock entered the fray, calling out the beer company. Politicians like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis also blasted Bud Light.

Kid Rock holding a microphone while in concert amid a black background.

Source: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

This did end up leading to a drop in sales. According to Bump Williams Consulting data, Bud Light sales dropped by 20% in 2023. In 2024, it looks like this may continue.


Bud Light Criticisms

Conservatives weren’t the only ones who openly criticized Bud Light’s moves last year. After some of the chaos calmed down, many LGBTQ+ organizations and liberal activists slammed the company for not standing by Mulvaney.

A close-up of a Bud Light Seltzer in Mango flavor.

Source: Jonathan Cooper/Unsplash

Mulvaney herself also called the company out, as she faced death threats from many anti-LGBTQ+ people over this partnership. However, Bud Light never reached out to her — and never really publicly supported her once the backlash hit a fever pitch.


Overseas Sales

Though Bud Light sales in the United States clearly dropped thanks to this backlash, the overall parent company did quite well everywhere else in the world. Overseas, this controversy wasn’t really talked about.

A Corona Extra beer can in the sand on the beach in the daytime.

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As a result, AB InBev’s global revenue still increased in 2023 by 7.8%. This ended up resulting in its global annual profits hitting more than $6.1 billion.


A Change of Heart

Interestingly, recent months have seen once prominent critics of Bud Light have a change of heart. Kid Rock first made this move, announcing in December of 2023 that he was done boycotting Bud Light and was drinking the beer again.

Donald Trump standing in front of a presidential podium speaking into a microphone.

Source: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, in February of 2024, former President Donald Trump entered the picture by saying consumers should give the company another chance. While praising the company for creating jobs and supporting farmers, Trump posted on Truth Social, “Anheuser-Busch is not a woke company.”