A series of aggressive acquisitions in a rapidly consolidating market has made AB InBev the world's biggest brewer by a considerable margin. The process began in 2000 when Belgian company Interbrew bought two of the UK's biggest beer marketers as well as a collection of German brands including Beck's. Added to the group's existing European flagship Stella Artois, and a strong portfolio of regional beers, these gave the company the right to describe itself as the "world's local brewer" by 2003, with a leading position in virtually every country in which it had a presence. This was followed in 2004 by what was in effect the takeover of Interbrew by South American brewer AmBev to form a new global giant under the name InBev. That deal gave the enlarged group a far more extensive global profile than its main rivals of the time, Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller, but it still lacked a significant presence in the US, the world's biggest beer market. That changed dramatically in 2008 when InBev succeeded in acquiring American giant Anheuser-Busch for a whopping $52bn. The resulting group, now Anheuser-Busch InBev, widened its lead further in 2013 with a deal to acquire the shares it didn't already own in Mexican partner Modelo. This steady expansion reached its crescendo in 2015 with a deal to acquire nearest rival SABMiller for an extraordinary $104bn.
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Adbrands Weekly Update 31st Aug 2017: Diageo has appointed AB InBev as the distributor of its Guinness brand in China, reigniting speculation that the spirits group might be open to persuasion to surrender what remains of its beer portfolio in the near future. That move has been anticipated by observers for several years. Guinness is Diageo's only international beer, sitting alongside a comparatively small portfolio of brands in Africa, where AB InBev now has a significant presence following its recent purchase of SABMiller.
Adbrands Weekly Update 17th Aug 2017: There are still beer deals to be done for AB InBev. The brewery giant agreed to merge its existing operations in Russia and Ukraine with those of Turkish group Anadolou Efes to strengthen its position as the local #2 in those two markets behind Carlsberg. By so doing, AB InBev effectively takes back partial control of SABMiller's CIS brewery operations, which were demerged into Anadolou Efes in 2011. The combined business, to be named AB InBev-Efes, will be a 50/50 joint venture led by current AB InBev Russia CEO Dmitry Shpakov. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. It is expected to complete in the first half of 2018. Carlsberg's Baltic Beverages Holding is the biggest brewer in Russia with around 32% local share. The combined AB InBev-Efes will have around 21% ahead of Heineken on 11%.
Adbrands Weekly Update 27th Jul 2017: With no significant beer businesses left to buy, AB InBev needs to look at other sectors to fuel revenue growth. Soft drinks are clearly the most obvious path to follow, and the one most feared by, for example, Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, both seen as future potential targets. AB InBev has begun flexing its muscles in the sector with the acquisition this week of Hiball, a US company which makes energy drinks and sparkling water. It's a minnow by AB InBev's usual standards, with sales of just $40m last year, but the deal shows clear intent on the part of the rapacious brewer.
Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Mar 2017: Doubts were raised over AB InBev's aggressive, acquisition-led strategy following publication of disappointing results for 2016, despite the acquisition of SABMiller towards the end of the year. Even CEO Carlos Brito acknowledged it had been a bad year as he waived his annual bonus. “If you own a bakery and don’t make any money one year, you don’t get a bonus - this is the same thing." But he said the disappointing performance would encourage managers to redouble their efforts for the future. "After a bad year, that’s when you see leaders rising to the occasion." Total drinks volumes fell by 2% over the year, and by 3% in the final quarter, though beer sales were less badly affected than the group's soft-drinks portfolio. Revenues rose 2% over the year to $45.5bn but were flat for the final quarter and down around 3% on a comparable like-for-like basis. Net profit plunged from $8.3bn in 2015 to $1.2bn as a result of steep finance expenses associated with the SABMiller takeover. AB InBev's total debt more than doubled to a staggering $180bn by the year's end. In performance terms, the main problem was Brazil, AB InBev's single biggest market, where economic turbulence put intense pressure on sales and profits. The US was also difficult, but Europe and especially Mexico performed well. Declines among the group's regional and local beer brands were offset by solid growth for global brands Budweiser (revenues up 3%), Stella Artois (up 6%) and Corona Extra (up over 14%). With no conceivable takeover targets left for AB InBev, the pressure is on for management to find ways of squeezing further growth out of their stripped-to-the-bone infrastructure.
Adbrands Weekly Update 12th Jan 2017: Apparently undeterred by the failure of the Keurig Kold soft drinks dispenser, AB InBev is teaming up with Keurig - now owned by German-Austrian investment giant JAB Holdings - to develop a home drinks system for alcoholic beverages. The two groups already have close links. One of JAB's three managing partners, Olivier Goudet, is also chairman of AB InBev.
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Interbrew has the privilege of being one of the world's oldest brewers, tracing its roots back to the 14th century, when the Den Hoorn brewery in Leuven, Belgium, first began making beer. In 1717 that business changed its name after it was acquired by Sebastiaan Artois. His Artois brewery became one of continental Europe's most prosperous beermakers over the following two centuries. Its most successful brew, Stella Artois, was first brewed in 1926. After World War II, Artois began to expand its business beyond Belgium. It acquired control of Leffe in 1954, followed by Holland's Dommelsch Brewery in 1968, and Brasserie du Nord in France two years later. Stella took its first steps outside the French and Belgian market in 1976, when the company agreed its first licensing deal, with Whitbread in the UK.
Despite the success of Stella and other beers, Artois was denied the position of the most popular beer in its own country. Jupiler was introduced by Piedboeuf, a competitive family brewery which had been operating since the middle of the 19th century. Increasingly both companies were in danger of being squeezed out of the market by the relentless expansion of Carlsberg and Heineken. In 1987, Artois and Piedboeuf joined forces to create Interbrew. At the same time, the families who still controlled the respective businesses, handed over management to newly recruited executives (although they continue to have seats on the board).
The enlarged group continued to snap up smaller breweries and brands. Hoegaarden joined the portfolio in 1989, Belle-Vue in 1991. In 1995, the group made another major purchase, acquiring Canada's Labatt Brewing Company for around $2.9bn. This gave Interbrew an important foothold in the Americas and placed the company in the #3 position worldwide behind Anheuser-Busch and Heineken. The group was also adding a number of companies in eastern Europe to its collection. Interbrew acquired breweries in Hungary in 1991, Croatia and Romania in 1994, Bulgaria in 1995 and the Ukraine in 1996. As a result of its purchase of Labatt's, Interbrew also ended up with ownership of various Canadian sports teams and their stadiums, including baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays. It had been seeking a buyer for these assets for several years, and finally completed a deal to sell the Blue Jays to Rogers Communications for $112m in late 2000.
Interbrew acquired the UK's Whitbread brewery in 2000 for £400m. Whitbread's portfolio of owned brands was comparatively small, with only one major non-licensed brand, Boddingtons. But it was already the UK licensee for Stella Artois, as well as Heineken, which accounted for around a third of its business. However, competition between Heineken and Interbrew stopped the Belgian company from taking over the Whitbread's UK Heineken contract. Instead Whitbread was obliged to lease back from the Belgian company one of the breweries included in the sale and continued to produce Heineken under license until 2002. A month later Interbrew announced the purchase of Bass Brewers from what is now InterContinental Hotels for £2.3bn. This portfolio was dominated by the Carling lager brand, selling around 3.3 million barrels a year. The group also had a 55% stake in the Czech Republic's #3 brewery, Prague Breweries, makers of Staropramen beer and owned French vineyard Chateau Lascombes. Despite the fact that it was still awaiting approval of the takeover of Whitbread and Bass, the group impetuously announced it would give up private status in December that year, launching an IPO on the Belgian Stock Exchange. Also that month, Sun Interbrew, a joint venture in Russia with Sun of India, acquired Ukraine's #2 brewery Rogan.
However in January 2001, in a shock upset of Interbrew's UK ambitions, the company's acquisition of Bass Brewers was vetoed by government regulators. Interbrew had expected to be obliged to sell off some smaller brands, but had not anticipated a full block. The Competition Commission said the takeover would create an effective brewing and distribution duopoly in the UK between Interbrew and Scottish & Newcastle, and instructed Interbrew to sell Bass Brewers to a single approved bidder. The Belgian company responded by appealing against the decision, beginning a long campaign to break the business up instead of sell it whole. Finally, after several months of deliberation by regulators, Interbrew was granted improved terms for its Bass takeover. It was told to sell off the Carling, Caffrey's and Worthington brands, but allowed to keep Tennent's and Bass Ale, as well as breweries in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Carling was finally acquired by US brewer Adolph Coors for $1.7bn. Meanwhile, still chasing major acquisitions, Interbrew paid over the odds to snap up Beck's Brauerai, Germany's biggest beer exporter. The deal price was $1.56bn, making it one of the most expensive takeovers ever in the international brewing industry.
At the end of the year, a document was leaked to the British press showing plans for an imminent bid by Interbrew for South African Breweries. The brewer claimed that the document was largely forged, although parts of it were genuine, and stated that no such plans were being considered. (Instead SAB subsequently joined the frenzy of consolidation across the industry, acquiring Miller of the US). In 2002 Interbrew added a third Chinese brewer to its portfolio, paying $42m for a 70% stake in regional brewery KK Group, and acquiring a 24% stake in existing strategic partner Zhujiang. However the key deal was the merger with AmBev, announced in early 2004. The only potential complication involved in this deal was resolving the relationship between Labatt and Mexico's FEMSA Cerveza, a rival to AmBev. Even before Interbrew's purchase of Labatt, the Canadian company had agreed a strategic alliance with FEMSA, makers of Dos Equis, Bohemia and Sol beers. As a sideline to the AmBev deal, Interbrew agreed to sell back to FEMSA the 30% stake it owned, and also dissolved their North American distribution partnership. The company also reacquired US distribution rights to its own Bass Ale, previously distributed under license by Diageo.
In what was then its most ambitious acquisition, Interbrew announced in March 2004 a complex deal to merge with Brazil's AmBev, then the world's 5th biggest brewer, paying E3.3bn to acquire an effective 56% equity holding in AmBev. In return, AmBev absorbed Interbrew's interests in Canada and the US, represented by the Labatt Brewing Company. The deal closed in August 2004. see full profile for current activities
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