Crafty in a Different Way: Anheuser-Busch Shrugs Off Competition, Crunches the Numbers

Innovation From All Angles

The Lime-A-Rita Party Center, which will be released this spring, presents cans horizontally and segments them by flavor. They come in three sizes: smaller for convenience stores, mid-sized for grocery stores and larger for mass retailers.

When AB originally devised the idea of Lime-A-Rita, sales executives planned to produce about 50,000 barrels, sell it on Cinco-de-Mayo and possibly offer it as a seasonal drink. However, with demand so strong (40 percent of the product’s consumers are female, compared to the typical 80 to 20 split), AB has turned it into a year-round offering and produced 800,000 barrels of Lime-A-Rita this year.

AB credits much of the success to the fact that the Bud Light brand name sits on the Lime-A-Rita cans. Also, Williams said that the product, which was influenced by the size of Campbell’s soup cans, works well for retailers that have tight restrictions on spirits but still want to appeal to drinkers who prefer something aside from traditional beers.

Naturally, the rapid success has led to Lime-A-Rita line extensions. In March, AB debuted Straw-Ber-Rita, a strawberry flavor of Lime-A-Rita that quickly became the largest market share gainer in the beer industry, according to the company. In September, AB announced the creation of Cran-Brrr-Rita, a cranberry take on the original.

In the middle of January, AB will release Raz-Ber-Rita, a raspberry version, and Mang-O-Rita, a mango version, for a limited time, only to become full-time offerings in March. The products will be available in three sizes, 8 oz., 12 oz. and 25 oz. cans, and will eventually be a part of a variety 18-pack that will feature four flavors and will encourage mixing the flavors. Pat McGauley, AB’s vice president of innovation, also recommends mixing Raz-Ber-Rita with winter-release Shock Top Chocolate Wheat, which together taste like a red Tootsie Pop. McGauley said that this fits the millennial desire for customization.

“We’ve seen a trend going toward a sweeter palate for years,” he said.

Also on the innovation front, AB is testing its $150-million investment in Bud Light screw-top aluminum bottles and a number of displays, dispensing systems and partnerships, such as Pepsi and Frito-Lay, Johnsonville Foods, Clorox and Kingsford Charcoal.

At convenience stores, the company is assessing the response of a cutout display that imitates a ballpark vendor holding a basket of 25 oz. cans. The words “Ice cold beer here!” extend from his mouth. AB is also testing a growler station with company-made growlers and a “chill chamber,” which stores the beer at 22 degrees but, with aluminum packaging and cooling technology, doesn’t freeze the beer.

Draftmark, a home tap system, is also still in the testing stage. The product contains a rotatable belly of beer and a disposable spout, which enables easier washing. The product, which stores approximately a 12-pack worth of Shock Top, Goose Island and Budweiser, is made for those who love the freshness of draft and want to bring it home in a format other than growlers.

Sofie, a Belgian-style farmhouse ale by Goose Island, will be a part of Brew Appétit, Anheuser-Busch’s beer and food pairing program.

For all outlet channels, AB has plans for digital monitor displays that are easily adjustable through connectivity with cell phones. The screens will be updated to fit with the day, or even the hour. For example, if the Baltimore Ravens play at 1 p.m. and the Baltimore Orioles play at 7 p.m., the screen could adorn Bud Light cans with black and purple in the afternoon and black and orange at night.

“Digital is clearly the way we want to merchandise,” Chhatwal said.

Continuing with the sports theme, Halpern seems particularly excited about a 3D tap handle that lights up every time your team scores a touchdown, indicating to the crowd that Budweiser is on sale for the next 15 minutes, for example.

Halpern and the rest of AB’s executives are also touting Brew Appétit, a multi-outlet program that meshes with the trend of food and beer pairing and the brewery’s desire to spread its diverse product portfolio.

Brew Appétit would enable AB’s retail and fine dining partners to work with chefs on pairing Stella Artois and Goose Island’s vintage ale series, among others, with carefully selected foods. The program, which has taken inspiration from restaurants in Argentina that already serve Goose Island like wine (napkin over arm, asking how it tastes), will even extend to convenience stores by pairing with frozen pizza and hot dog companies.

However, just as Chhatwal said that AB won’t abandon its foundation of Budweiser and Bud Light, which still write the checks, the brewery holds a similar belief with food pairing.

“If we lose the hamburger consumer,” Halpern said. “We haven’t done our job.”