ab imports a beer strategy

Beer sales are hot right now and driving the push are specialty brews and imports. In both cases, AnheuserBusch Cos. Inc. has a message for retailers: “We’ve got you covered.”

In February, St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch became the exclusive U.S. importer of a number of InBev’s premium Europeanimport beer brands. As part of the deal, Anheuser-Busch willimport brands including Stella Artois, Beck’s, Bass Pale Ale,Boddington’s, Hoegaarden, Lowenbrau and Leffe, and handletheir sales, promotion and distribution in the U.S.

The deal forges a strong global partnership for AnheuserBusch because InBev is a leading global brewer, based in Leuven,Belgium, that manages a portfolio of more than 200 brands, including Skol, the third-largest selling beer brand in the world.

Joe Vonder Haar, vice president of the convenience store channel and national retail sales for Anheuser-Busch Inc., said this is animportant development for convenience store retailers because itgives them more options when stocking the cold vault.

“A large part of beer industry growth over the last year hascome from craft and imported beers, illustrating that many consumers have a strong interest in variety,” Vonder Haar said. “Byadding these premium import brands to our portfolio, convenience store owners will be able to offer their consumers thechoices they want and receive the quality marketing support theyhave come to expect from Anheuser-Busch.”

By combining a well-known line of import brands to its popular lineup of premium American beers, Anheuser-Busch expectsit will be able to compete more effectively in convenience storeswhile helping retailers grow incremental beer sales.

“This agreement gives us highly-valued brands that appealto beer drinkers looking for sophisticated imports in their beerchoices,” said August Busch IV, president and CEO of AnheuserBusch, the world’s largest brewer.

The premium InBev brands will be available to AnheuserBusch’s U.S. wholesaler network where possible.

“Our goal is to transition these brands to the Anheuser-Buschequity agreement wholesalers have to buy the rights to the InBevbrands,” Vonder Haar said. “We will continue to assist with thetransition of InBev brands in accordance with the law, and wherenecessary, sell to non-equity agreement wholesalers.”

While the InBev deal expands the beer company’s reach in convenience stores, Vonder Haar said Anheuser-Busch’s relationship with retailers will not change at all as a result of this agreement, “except that the company has added these new premium products to our portfolio.”

“Our preference is to transition the InBev brands to AnheuserBusch equity agreement wholesalers, however, we are committedto providing all wholesalers that carry the InBev brands with support,” Vonder Haar said.

Plus, import brands, like the InBev brands, are bringing excitement and attention to beer.

“Today’s consumers, including those who shop in conveniencestores, look for additional variety,” Vonder Haar said. “Providingan Anheuser-Busch supported brand in the import category allowsconvenience store retailers to offer their consumers options.”

InBev’s Canadian brands, including Labatt Blue, Labatt Blue Light and Brahma, are not included in the agreement and will continue to be marketed and sold through a separate distribution network.

The move follows several other high-profile deals for the brewer. In February 2006 , Anheuser-Busch became the U.S. importer for Dutch brewer Grolsch. It expanded its alliance with Japanese brewer Kirin Brewery Co. Ltd. in August 2006 to market and sell the Kirin brands in the U.S. Then Anheuser-Busch bought the right to brew Rolling Rock and Rock Green Light from InBev USA in last May.

A-B at a GLANCE
ANHEUSER-BUSCH, RANKED NO. 1 among beverage companies in Fortune Magazine‘s 2007 Most Admired U.S. Companies list, operates 12 breweries in the U.S. and several others overseas. The company holds a 48.4% share of U.S. beer sales. Worldwide, Anheuser-Busch’s beer sales volume was 121.9 million barrels in 2005. The company brews the world’s largest-selling beers, Budweiser and Bud Light. Internationally, AB owns a 50% share in Grupo Modelo, Mexico’s leading brewer, and a 27% share in China brewer Tsingtao, whose namesake beer brand is the country’s best-selling premium beer. The company is also one of the largest theme park operators in the country, a major manufacturer of aluminum cans and one of the world’s largest recyclers of aluminum cans.

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