The line of flavored malt beverages from Anheuser-Busch Cos. -- in small, colorful bottles and flavors such as "hot melons" and "hot chocolate" -- became too hot to handle after critics accused the St. Louis brewer of creating a product that attracted minors.
The brand "has not performed up to expectations," said Michael J. Owens, vice president of marketing at A-B's domestic beer subsidiary, in a statement Thursday afternoon. "Due to its limited volume potential and unfounded criticism, we are ceasing production of Spykes."
Earlier in the day, August A. Busch IV, A-B's chief executive, disclosed the plan to stop selling Spykes during a panel discussion hosted by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association in La Quinta, Calif.
Spykes was part of Anheuser-Busch's drive to woo adults age 21 to 29, many of whom have turned away from domestic beers to try wine or distilled spirits such as vodka and rum in recent years. Spykes, which has 12% alcohol by volume and is intended to be downed as a shot or mixed with beer or vodka, was unveiled in eight states in 2005. However, by the end of last year, it was available in more than 30 states, including Missouri and Illinois.
Spykes suddenly attracted a blaze of negative publicity about six weeks ago, just in time for prom season. Critics such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a longtime foe of the alcohol industry, called Spykes "a shameful ploy to market malt liquor to the Lunchables set."
The drinks were banned in bars, restaurants and liquor stores in the town of West Bridgewater, Mass., in what town officials called a preventative step. Later, it was revealed that federal officials inspecting labeling on Spykes bottles had mistakenly approved lettering that was too small. Anheuser-Busch covered the offending labels with new ones, but the episode lent a little more ammunition to critics.
From the start, Anheuser-Busch maintained that the criticism was misguided. Francine Katz, the company's vice president of communications and consumer affairs, said last week that Spykes had as much alcohol as a third of a glass of wine. Minors, who tend to "drink for instant impact," would be less likely to choose Spykes than similarly colored and flavored 70- or 80-proof liquors, she said.
Owens said Thursday that Spykes had the lowest alcohol content in its market segment, "which has more than 50 products available in all colors and flavors, the majority of which are hard liquor with three to four times the alcohol content by volume" of Spykes.
He added that Spykes had been "unduly attacked by perennial anti-alcohol groups" such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The company met recently with alcohol control officials in several states to try to head off the controversy, Busch said last month. But those efforts didn't stop attorneys general in 27 states from blasting Spykes in a May 10 letter to Busch, in which they called the drinks "the most objectionable of Anheuser-Busch's alcoholic energy drinks."
Although Spykes is caffeinated, Anheuser-Busch has said that Spykes is not an energy drink and is marketed to adults who want more flavor in their alcoholic beverages.
"Our commitment to deliver a variety of products to meet the changing demands of today's adult consumers remains uncompromised," said Owens.
The company was not the first to explore the mixing of caffeine and alcohol. Citrus-flavored Sparks, bought by A-B rival SABMiller PLC last year, "created the caffeinated malt beverage segment," according to subsidiary Miller Brewing Co.'s website.
From the May 23, 2007, Prepared Foods e-Flash