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ST. LOUIS -- Anheuser-Busch InBev (A-B) plans to launch 19 new products in the United States this year, the company's biggest product push since Belgium-based InBev acquired the brewer in 2008 for $52 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The new products will include small-batch craft brews, a cider and an expanded malt beverage lineup.
The new product initiative is part of President Luiz Edmond's attempt to bring back consumers who have slowly strayed from flagship brands Bud Light and Budweiser to smaller brews and liquor. His other strategies include a plan to hike the alcohol content of beer; rein in distributors who have begun to work more with rival brands; and promote the company's iconic Clydesdale horses on the marketing side, according to the report.
Anheuser-Busch's North American operating margins are up to 40 percent from below 30 percent in 2008, but its shipments have fallen, dropping 3.2 percent to below 100 million barrels in 2011 for the first time in over a decade. The company's U.S. beer market share has also dropped to 46.9 percent from 48.9 percent in 2008, according to data provided by Beer Marketer's Insights.
Both Anheuser-Busch and No. 2 rival MillerCoors have faced increased competition from smaller, independent brewers. Craft brews jumped 13 percent in 2011 and shipped more than 10 million barrels for the first time.
To fight back, Anheuser-Busch in January launched Bud Light Platinum, which offers a higher 6-percent alcohol content. So far, it’s seen good results, with high demand leading to stock runouts. The company’s plan is to increase the number of breweries producing it from two to four this summer.
"Platinum, that's a game changer for us," Edmond acknowledged.
While A-B’s research brewery experiments with three new beers each day, some of the upcoming new products stray from traditional beers. The 8-percent alcohol Bud Light Lime-a-Rita is designed to taste like a margarita, while a new cider and a tea-and-lemonade drink will launch under the Michelob brand.
Marketing and production increases for Stella Artois and Goose Island are also planned, but Edmond stated that Bud Light and Budweiser remain the company's top priorities. Newly hired ad agencies will create new campaigns, the report noted.