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Corona beer maker CEO says coronavirus not impacting sales

Updated March 4, 2020 - 10:08 am

The top boss of Corona said Wednesday in Las Vegas that sales of the popular beer are just fine and consumers realize there is no tie between the drink and the deadly coronavirus.

Bill Newlands, president and CEO of Corona maker Constellation Brands, said despite “a fair amount of misinformation that’s been circulating … our business is just fine.”

Speaking at an investor presentation at Caesars Palace, Newlands said the company has received “numerous inquiries” about the virus. Business is ahead year-to-date, and there are no supply issues for the product either.

“We haven’t seen any impact,” he said.

More than a decade ago, the U.S. pork industry took a financial hit amid fears of the deadly “swine” flu, which, as an industry group stressed, had nothing to do with pigs. Today, the coronavirus boasts a similar name — and no other connection — to the top-selling beer, but there’s no indication that business is slumping.

Several Las Vegas booze slingers report no noticeable changes in sales volume due to the virus.

“We’re all good,” said Denny James, marketing director of Señor Frog’s at Treasure Island, adding the party spot has seen “no fluctuation whatsoever” in sales of Corona.

Scott Hanning, head beer buyer for Lee’s Discount Liquor, said the liquor-store chain has “not yet seen any adverse effect on the sales of Corona.”

“It’s doing well,” he said.

Representatives of casino giant MGM Resorts International, nightclub operator Hakkasan Group and Cabo Wabo Cantina, in Miracle Mile Shops, said they had seen no effects either.

Other companies with bar operations declined to say whether Corona sales have changed lately.

‘Address unfounded concerns’

Nationally, Corona Extra is the best-selling imported beer and sixth-best-selling beer overall, Constellation has reported.

With the deadly new coronavirus spreading around the globe from China, interest in the search term “corona beer” jumped past typical levels lately, according to Google. 5W Public Relations, a New York PR agency, also claimed in a Feb. 27 news release that results of a recent phone survey showed there is “no question that Corona beer is suffering because of the coronavirus.”

The firm said its survey of 737 American beer drinkers found 38 percent “would not buy Corona under any circumstances now.”

It did not return a call from the Review-Journal seeking more information on the poll.

The day after 5W issued its press release, Constellation released a statement “to address unfounded concerns” about the virus’ impact on its business.

It said sales of Corona Extra “remain strong” and were up 5 percent in the U.S. during a recent four-week stretch.

As of Wednesday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University, there were about 94,250 confirmed cases globally of the new coronavirus, which causes a respiratory disease known as “coronavirus disease 2019,” or COVID-19. There are no confirmed cases in Nevada.

Johns Hopkins reported more than 3,200 deaths and 51,000-plus recoveries.

‘Swine’ flu

Corona beer isn’t the first consumer product to feel the spillover effects of an unrelated public health crisis.

In May 2009, the National Pork Producers Council said the industry was “nearing the brink of financial disaster.” Hog prices had tumbled as the recession ruined the economy, and fell further after the “swine” flu outbreak became a major news story, the group said.

The virus was “not of pig origin” and “never has been found in pigs anywhere in the world,” it said.

Nearly 12,500 people died in the U.S. from April 2009 to April 2010 due to that virus, formally known as H1N1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association, tweeted last week that when his dad texted him about whether the coronavirus was “pulling down Corona beer, I knew it was finally time to look at the data.”

Corona sales over the past four weeks were up 3.1 percent by volume versus a year earlier, he wrote.

“So no effect. Carry on,” he added.

Watson, who posted the comments the day after 5W issued its news release, told the Review-Journal that there had been “a lot of chatter” about the virus’ supposed impact on Corona sales but no “hard analysis.”

“People want to see real data and understand the real story,” he said.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Heidi Knapp Rinella contributed to this report.

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