I just returned from St. Louis, where I attended the annual Anheuser-Busch trade media open house. I had the opportunity to hear about the company’s latest initiatives, sample some new products, take a look at new packaging and ask executives questions about future projects. I’ll be filing a full report in the January/February issue of Beverage Dynamics, but for now here are my top ten takeaways from the event (in no particular order of importance):
1. The company is very happy with the early results from its Your Balanced Portfolio Approach (YBPA) program. YBPA is a data-driven retailer guidance system that leverages AB’s entire portfolio (craft, premium and mass-market) to show retailers who among their peers is “best in class” and what metrics separates the best from the average.
2. According to Anheuser-Busch’s internal research, liquor/wine stores make up 27% of total off-premise beer sales (the other 73 percent includes mostly convenience stores and grocery stores). The figure breaks down further to 1% small urban stores, 16% small rural/suburban stores, 2% boutique outlets and 8% large service stores.
3. All category managers within the company are graded and partially compensated based on how their retail accounts compare to the national market in category sales, not just on sales of Anheuser-Busch products. “We want to help retailers grow their entire beer business,” said VP of Category Leadership CJ Watson.
4. Brewmaster George Reisch lives and breathes beer. The fifth-generation brewmaster, whose family founded Reisch Brewing, hosted a pairing dinner at the Budweiser Brew House at the new Ballpark Village next to Busch Stadium. The beers sampled included Budweiser Clamato Picante (with nachos), Busch (with a hot dog), Stella Artois (with caprese salad), Shock Top (with goat cheese bruschetta), Goose Island Matilda (with filet mignon), and Wild Blue / Goose Island Sofie (with blueberry cobbler and vanilla ice cream) for dessert.
5. The company calls Lime-a-Rita, introduced in 2012, a “game changer” because many locations that aren’t able to sell liquor can now offer a beer alternative. “The Rita franchise alone is 60% of the size of Boston Beer,” said David Almeida, VP of Sales and Wholesaler Development. Anheuser-Busch plans to have 300 Rita cabanas (on-premise signed locations found in ballparks, concert venues, malls and other large spaces) by the end of 2014, with the goal of replicating the brand’s off-premise success in the on-premise market.
6. Despite recent consolidation within the company (while I was on the trade media tour), Anheuser-Busch is expanding personnel in certain key areas. By the end of 2015, there will be 800 brand representatives in the on-premise market who weren’t there in 2013. In addition, the company has spun off a high-end business team made up of 200 employees who work in Illinois, separated from the rest of the company in St. Louis. The investment in people is intentional – “Our competitors can copy our brands, breweries and trade programs, but they can’t copy our people and our culture,” Almeida said.
7. AB’s internal data revealed a number of surprising (and some not-so-surprising) statistics:
- Within the past four weeks, 60 percent of legal drinking age adults have consumed an AB product (29.8 percent for Bud Light alone).
- Through Bud Light’s Whatever USA campaign, which targeted Millennials, more than 2 million consumers were engaged and 200,000 shared videos through social media and the web.
- Beer lost 17 points to wine and spirits among 21-27 year old women, just within the past decade.
8. Brand perception outside of the U.S. market can vary greatly from how U.S. consumers see a brand, and which brands receive advertising support in foreign markets is changing. For example, in China Budweiser is seen as a premium brand, and in Mexico Bud Light is growing at a triple-digit pace as consumers there embrace the American brand. “We’ve changed Corona billboard advertising in Mexican stadiums to Bud Light, and we’ve changed the Bud Light sign at Dodger Stadium in L.A. to Montejo,” said Jorn Soquet, Head of U.S. Marketing.
9. Introducing new products and expanding the portfolio is only part of the company’s long-term plan. “If we don’t make our core brands more relevant and interesting to consumers, we can’t innovate enough to make up for the losses we’ve seen recently,” said Pat McGauley, VP of Innovation. “We need to renovate our core brands periodically.”
10. Beer consumers read print advertising and make purchasing decisions based on what the circulars contain. According to AB’s research, “65% of beer shoppers recently read an ad in a newspaper or mail circular, compared to 48% of all shoppers,” said Paul Auberry, Senior Director of the Category Leadership Center.