Anheuser-Busch’s ZX Ventures Acquires UK-Based Spirits Company

In recent years, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s “global growth and innovation team” ZX Ventures has invested in at least nine international breweries, and now the company is pushing into spirits.

ZX Ventures today announced the acquisition of Atom Group, a United Kingdom-based spirits, eCommerce and import business. Specific financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Atom Group’s website describes the multi-faceted company as a “pioneering, disruptive global drinks group encompassing the full life-cycle of spirits, from inception, prototyping, production and brand ownership with Atom Brands; through import, distribution and brand development via Maverick Drinks; to global online retail at Master of Malt.”

In a letter to wholesalers, A-B vice president of business and wholesaler development Bob Tallett wrote that the acquisition meets two of the company’s strategic priorities: “gain share of throat and lead category development.”

“This investment gives us another opportunity to further partner with you, and grow into a new space for our partnership, in the area of High End spirits,” he wrote. “Our goal is to transition all Atom brands to our wholesaler system wherever possible.”

Tallett added that the acquisition will allow the company to offer consumers “a wider portfolio in the specialty beverage space.”

“AB InBev is first and foremost a beer company and we will continue to work nonstop to elevate the beer category, striving to provide the best experiences possible for the beer community,” he wrote. “While ZX Ventures invests in diverse products beyond beer, we remain unwavering in our support and commitment to the 3-tier system for beer in the U.S.”

As such, Tallett wrote that the deal for Atom Group will bring an end to U.S. direct-to-consumer sales via the Master of Malt eCommerce site, which offers a variety of beer, wine and spirits products. He added that Maverick Drinks, the company’s import division, will be the only currently active Atom Group business in the U.S.

In February 2015, A-B launched ZX Ventures, which it called its “global disruptive growth group.” ZX’s acquisition of Atom Group appears to be the company’s most significant investment in the spirits space and builds upon previous investments in Owl’s Brew, which makes tea-based cocktail mixers and a tea-and-beer Radler line, as well as a minority stake in PicoBrew Inc., a homebrewing appliance company that offers the PicoStill distilling unit.

In the past three years, ZX Ventures has acquired several international beer companies, including Australia’s 4 Pines and Pirate Life, Columbia’s Cervejaria Colorado, Brazil’s Cervejaria Wäls, Mexico’s Cerveza Bocanegra, Madrid’s Cervezas La Virgen, Belgium’s Brouwerij Bosteels, Italy’s Birra del Borgo and London’s Camden Town Brewery.

In addition its spirits and beer investments, ZX Ventures has also invested in other alternative beverages, including Kombrewcha, a slightly alcoholic organic tea, and Canvas, a non-alcoholic drink made from spent grain.

The venture capital wing has also invested in U.K.-based online beer retailer Beer Hawk, rating site RateBeer and U.S. homebrew supply companies Northern Brewer and Midwest Supplies. ZX has also created the Brazilian-based “beHoppy” beer locator and ratings mobile app and helped fund the October beer website.

In recent months, A-B has begun wading deeper into spirits in an attempt to capture the attention of a growing number of consumers who are drinking across multiple alcoholic beverage categories.

Earlier this month, A-B announced a cross-merchandising partnership and collaboration brewing project with Beam Suntory in which the two companies’ flagship offerings, Budweiser and Jim Beam, will be marketed together at bars and retailers across the country. The companies will also collaborate on Budweiser Reserve Copper Lager, a limited-edition beer aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrel staves.

Within A-B’s High End division of craft breweries, Devils Backbone recently launched a distillery in Virginia and 10 Barrel Brewing plans to also open one in Bend, Oregon.

Tallett’s letter to wholesalers is included below.

Anheuser-Busch: A Message from Bob Tallett

April 18, 2018

Subject: ZX Ventures Acquires Atom Group

Dear Wholesaler Partners:

I wanted to share some news from ZX Ventures, AB InBev’s global growth and innovation team. ZX just acquired Atom Group, a global beverage group based in the U.K. that has experienced rapid expansion in the last few years.

What is Atom Group?

Atom Group has three business units:

  • Atom Brands – A distiller of High End speciality drinks and spirits
  • Master of Malt – A global eCommerce alcohol beverage platform, which allows the company to learn from consumers, and create offerings at a rapid pace
  • Maverick Drinks – A sales network through which the company currently imports products to the U.S. then sells through U.S. distributors to retailers

Atom Group currently sells direct to consumers through their website Master of Malt. As part of this transaction, they will no longer be conducting direct to consumer sales in the U.S. and the only business that will be currently active in the U.S. will be Maverick Drinks.

Our Strategy

This acquisition aligns directly with two of our strategic priorities: Gain Share of Throat and Lead Category Development. This investment gives us another opportunity to further work with you, our wholesaler partners, to grow into new areas within our strategic priorities and organize our portfolio for growth.

Why are we making this investment?

This investment gives us another opportunity to further partner with you, and grow into a new space for our partnership, in the area of High End spirits. Our goal is to transition all Atom brands to our wholesaler system wherever possible.

As an innovation group, ZX Ventures is continuously exploring and learning from areas of growth within beer and beer-adjacent categories. Our consumers always come first, and this investment gives us all an opportunity to explore new a new space, offering our consumers a wider portfolio in the specialty beverage space.

AB InBev is first and foremost a beer company and we will continue to work nonstop to elevate the beer category, striving to provide the best experiences possible for the beer community. While ZX Ventures invests in diverse products beyond beer, we remain unwavering in our support and commitment to the 3-tier system for beer in the U.S.

We are excited about this acquisition and we look forward to continuing to work together, win together and Lead Future Growth.

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