Budweiser’s Innovation Examination

Like an incredibly well-prepared student, Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) has always been able to answer the fill-in-the-blank questions that come from being the category captain in the beer aisle.

As the world’s largest beer producer, there’s a lot to be said for answering the right questions when it comes to organization and execution. Handling a portfolio of more than 200 beer brands, after all, requires a talent for getting the right product into the right place at the right time.

But lately, the tests have begun to take on a more philosophical bent: rather than selling more beer, the question has morphed into a series of inquiries on the very nature of the product. Consumers, increasingly, have been educated to question the premise, the very nature of beer, rather than settle for the same old answers.

For a company that has long believed its fortunes will rise and fall with the number of barrels of Budweiser and Bud Light that it moves, this has been quite an education.

In recent years, ABI has started to educate itself. It’s recognized that consumer buying habits can shift; it is aware that more beer drinkers are seeking out higher quality offerings, for example. In an effort to help offset declining volumes from its largest brands, two years ago, ABI started placing greater emphasis on higher alcohol line extensions like Bud Light Platinum, Budweiser Black Crown and Bud Light Lime-A-Rita. The company has even applied the same approach to import offering and focus brand, Beck’s, with the introduction of Beck’s Sapphire.

The question is, will these on-trend rollouts provide the company a burst of momentum that is quickly subsumed by a changing world, or will they prove to be lasting parts of the portfolio? In other words, are they still providing the same old answers to newer questions?

“The days have to be gone where we sit around the office picking new beers,” said Pat McGauley, ABI’s vice president of innovation. “It has to have a story and historically, we haven’t done that so well.”

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