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Friday, December 01, 2006

Anheuser-Busch Signs Deal to Import InBev's European Brands

The folks at Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis are winding up 2006 showing they have no plans to slow the rate of changes they are willing to make to grab a greater share of the American beer market. In a move that has implications for the balance of power in the import segment, A-B has signed a deal with InBev, the Belgian-based beer giant, to handle Stella Artois, Beck's, Bass Ale, Hoegaarden and Leffe in the U.S.

Fighting against sluggish sales in the premium domestic category that has hit brands like Budweiser, A-B has gone on a brewing, sales and marketing blitzkrieg in recent months. The company has launched regional craft brands, acquired the Rolling Rock brand, signed deals to import Grolsch and other brands, and even introduced a spirits product. The InBev deal may cast the biggest shadow because it gives A-B distributors several strong import brands to use in selling against the likes of Heineken, Corona and other imports. It will afford A-B even more control over taps in taverns and the cooler case in supermarkets. This real estate in the hands of A-B's distribution system has the potential to change the beer landscape in 2007.

For InBev, the deal makes sense because it instantly increases the sales potential for each of its European brands. Much of the beer business comes down to the energy level and attention given to brands by distributors. This puts InBev's brands in the hands of one of the best sales networks in the industry. Not included in the deal are InBev's Labatt and Brahma brands. The company plans to continue to handle the Canadian and Brazilian brands on its own.

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