There is an absolutely fantastic piece by Mike Esterl in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal about Anheuser-Busch InBev‘s push into China. It covers everything from the marketing and advertising budgets in the People’s Republic to the distribution challenges and triumphs. It even delves into the historical hurdles that the King of Beer might have to clear to be taken seriously consumer-wise outside of China’s bigger urban areas:
But while its efforts are already making some noticeable inroads, analysts say beer is unlike almost any other consumer product and, for both historic and operational reasons, is especially difficult to turn into a global brand. Beer predates brands, having been brewed locally for thousands of years, and local consumer habits and allegiances have dug deep roots. From Brazil to Poland to Japan, it is the local beer brands that rule, and they are often a source of national pride.
Most importantly, I think, Esterl’s article spells out a decade-old strategy by A-B InBev and its Big Beer brethren. One of the biggest questions I’ve gotten at book events the last three months is: Where’s Big Beer? Why aren’t they trying to crush craft-beer brands? Spoiler alert, as I tell people: A meta-theme of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution is Big Beer’s attempt at crushing craft beer through distribution squeezes, ad blitzes, even the introduction of what I call “phantom crafts” (Blue Moon, anyone?). The attempt failed, of course, and that much was clear in the first few years of the new century; craft beer in the U.S. is more vibrant than ever.
Big Beer moved on, and has instead turned to the rest of the planet, especially the planet outside of North America and Europe, dividing it up like a dipsomaniacal game of Risk. China is part of that game, and Esterl’s article is a wonderful document of Big Beer’s strategy for the 21st century.
· ‘King of Beers,’ Fizzling in U.S., Sets Goal of World Domination [WSJ]
· Actually, Yes, Big Beer Did Manipulate the Market and Prohibition Did Affect Smaller Breweries [TomAcitelli.com]