Sunday, July 20, 2008

What local changes might we see from InBev?

There are some craft beer lovers who put ownership over flavor. They won't drink a beer, no matter how it tastes, if the brewer has some ownership connection to one of the big factory breweries, such as Anheuser-Busch. But what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? Instead of Anheuser-Busch absorbing some small craft brewer, the giant itself has been picked up by Belgian InBev. Will folks drink beers from a Belgian company that also owns Anheuser-Busch? We may have the chance to find out. After the hand-wringing over the loss of an American icon, the guesses start as to what this really means on a local level. InBev produces numerous beers worldwide, only a few of which are seen in the U.S. Whether you enjoy Anheuser-Busch beers or not, one has to be impressed by their distribution network. There can be little doubt that InBev is impressed as well and will likely take advantage.

Our local Anheuser-Busch distributor thinks we'll see more InBev brands locally as a result. In a recent Free Lance-Star report, J. F. Fick believes the sale offers opportunity:
[The merger] means that exclusive Anheuser-Busch distributors such as J.F. Fick in Fredericksburg will likely add ales and other beverages from Belgian-based InBev to their lineup. "We'll have access to a lot more products from InBev that aren't well known in the United States, and this will give us an opportunity to introduce them," said John F. Fick III, Fick's president and CEO.

This same theme was covered by the Wall Street Journal on Friday in "This Jupiler's for You":
Amid all the patriotic tub-thumping about the recently sealed takeover of Anheuser-Busch, maker of all-American King of Beers Budweiser, by Belgian-Brazilian InBev, one vital fact has gotten lost. Americans could soon get to drink a lot more, and more unusual, kinds of beers.

InBev already was one of the world's biggest beer companies before it bought Anheuser-Busch. It makes hundreds of different brews around the globe, but exports only about two dozen to the U.S.. That's likely to change, the company says. For the $52 billion it paid for Anheuser, InBev gets access to the U.S. company's many-tentacled distribution network that can spread its brews into convenience stores, markets and bars across the country. InBev says it's looking at "brand strategies" before deciding which new beers to ship across the pond. "Maybe we'll sell a Russian beer in the U.S.," says spokeswoman Marianne Amssoms. InBev owns four breweries in Russia, including one called Tinkov and one called Tolstiak.

There are other perhaps more pertinent questions to be answered. For example, what will become of Virginia's Busch Gardens amusement park? Of course, all this talk is mere speculation at this point. As Tom Cizauskas so succinctly put it "Now, let the games begin: distribution networks, brands, employees, those craft breweries partially owned by Anheuser-Busch, the Department of Justice, etc."

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