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The star of death

Casual shoppers would barely notice a small asterisk on a price display above a shelf. These days most of the attention is on the price. However, Kirkland members believe the asterisk has special significance for Costco’s supply chain decisions. It's often associated with items that are being discontinued.

These products are usually marked down to get rid of supply on the shelves. It’s a subtle sign to Costco employees not to restock an item after the inventory is depleted. Devoted shoppers look for the asterisk to spot deals and have even nicknamed it the “death star” on the Facebook page Costco Fans.

And now the star is being spotted over cans of Bud Light. “Is it just me…Or am I the only one who noticed that Costco has applied their infamous 'Star of Death' on Bud Light being sold!” said one Twitter user.

Shoppers believe it means the Bud Light cans could soon be taken off Costco’s shelves.

The company hasn’t acknowledged these claims directly. But if true, BudLight sales could see a significant impact. Costco is one of the top three mass retailers in America, based on sales volume per store. It’s a critical part of any major consumer brand’s distribution network. Losing a spot on Costco shelves isn’t good news.

Costco’s move could potentially trigger other big retailers to follow suit.

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Brewing controversy

Bud Light sales have been plunging since spring after an ill-fated social media marketing campaign caused political backlash. The beer has now been beaten by Mexican lager, Modelo, as the top-selling beer brand so far this year, according to new data from NIQ reported by CNN. It marks the first time Modelo has ever surpassed Bud Light on a year-to-date basis.

CNN reports the NIQ data shows that in recent weeks, Bud Light volumes were down 26.7%. However, that is a slight improvement on the -30% the brand has experienced since spring.

In response to its rocky sales, Anheuser-Busch initiated a temporary rebrand of the Bud Light product. Aluminum bottles of the beverage feature camouflage prints and images evoking the “Folds of Honor” program that offers special educational assistance to the spouses and children of disabled and deceased U.S. Army veterans. The company also launched a new promotional campaign for the summer touting itself as "easy to drink, easy to enjoy" but the campaign didn't seem to have the intended effect as online commenters mocked and ridiculed the brand's change of tack.

More: Bud Light no longer in top 10 of most 'popular beers'

What comes next?

Bud Light’s marketing woes are undeniable. However, the parent company’s marketing efforts could stem the tide. Meanwhile, Quora user Dimitri Vulis believes Costco’s so-called Death Star isn’t as dramatic as its name suggests.

Some items that have received the death star in the past have been brought back into distribution at a later date. It’s also worth noting that Costco itself has never acknowledged the “death star” or elaborated on its purchase decisions. An industry insider told Newsweek he finds it "hard to believe any retailer" would voluntarily drop a product like Bud Light, which despite its recent rocky performance, remains relatively popular.

Meanwhile, researchers at Cornell University believe the impact of politically-motivated boycotts is often temporary. Sales and brand reputation take a hit initially but recover over the long run as the media cycle turns and public attention moves on.

However, industry insiders disagree. Catarina Tucker, the founder of Barnastics, a bartending service, told Fox News that the brand has seen a significant shift in consumer preferences. She believes the sales dip could be permanent as consumers move on to other beer brands.

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Vishesh Raisinghani Freelance Writer

Vishesh Raisinghani is a freelance contributor at MoneyWise. He has been writing about financial markets and economics since 2014 - having covered family offices, private equity, real estate, cryptocurrencies, and tech stocks over that period. His work has appeared in Seeking Alpha, Motley Fool Canada, Motley Fool UK, Mergers & Acquisitions, National Post, Financial Post, and Yahoo Canada.

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