How Anheuser-Busch InBev Will Survive

Anheuser-Busch has been around since 1852, and they haven't survived that long by simply watching the monumental shifts in the beer industry roll by.  They were around in 1873, when there were 4,131 breweries in the US (just slightly more than there are today), as well as in the 1920s, during prohibition. And they were certainly present in the late 1970s when the number of breweries in the US dipped below 100. (see these numbers in a handy chart from the Brewer's Association)

Today's craft beer movement is not going to topple Goliath. If you think otherwise, lay off the crack pipe.

To lay the groundwork here, I want to first show a few basic stats. These stats from the Brewer's Association have been referenced in many articles over the past few years, so you may already be familiar with them, but I think they're worth repeating.

Craft beer is where it's at! I know that, you know that, and AB-InBev knows that.

But, what is AB doing about it? We know they're buying up craft breweries (5 in the past 5 years), but if we take a look at the structure of their business and where they are allocating their resources, we start to see that they are really are taking the craft beer movement seriously (even if they simultaneously release commercials mocking craft beer drinkers).

First off, Anheuser-Busch now has a "CEO of Craft." You can see him, Andy Goeler, in this video interview with Meg Gill, the President and Co-Founder of Golden Road Brewing, who was recently purchased by AB-InBev.

Beyond that, this year they created a “Disruptive Growth Organization” based in NYC, and now have a "Chief Disruptive Growth Officer," Pedro Earp, who has been involved in the M&A side of AB for around 10 years.

They've hired an NYC-based recruiting firm to help them fill this department. I recently received an email (full text below) from an executive recruiter there, looking to fill the role of "Global Training and Education Manager" within the Disruptive Growth Organization. This role would be responsible for the development of beer knowledge training and education programs across the organization globally.

Soooo, basically AB is finally hiring someone to teach them about beer. I find that fantastic on so many levels.

Here's the message I received:

AB-InBev Global Opportunity in "Disruptive Growth Organization"

Dear Chris, My name is ------ and I am an executive recruiter with -------. My firm has been retained by Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB-InBev) to recruit a Certified Cicerone or HomeBrewer, for a highly visible Global Training and Education Manager within their newly formed “Disruptive Growth Organization” in NYC. We are seeking entrepreneurial and disruptive candidates with a love and passion for beer that will be responsible for the development of beer knowledge training and education programs across the organization globally. This role is being used as a high potential entry position into the AB-InBev organization with exposure to key executives throughout the organization, thus allowing an individual the ability to quickly progress to the very highest levels of AB-InBev, one of the world’s top 5 consumer products companies with 18 “billion dollar” brands. I specifically targeted your background as I think you could potentially be a match for this role, even if this opportunity is not of interest to you, I would still love the opportunity to connect and potentially network given your background and network. Please let me know the best way to connect. Thank you.

While it's easy to see this as grasping at straws and to poke fun at such a big organization that is just now forming a department and a role to train people about beer....at a "brewery," I do think this says a lot about the ability of a huge company such as AB-InBev to react and change their organization to survive in the ever-changing landscape around them, and it's just one of the reasons why they're not going to be folding anytime soon.

I am an avid supporter of local and craft beer that is made by people I know in my community. Supporting small, independent businesses is a point of pride, and no changes that AB makes is ever going to change that.

AB continuing to purchase craft breweries and recruiting craft beer talent into their organization is going to help them stay afloat, but it's not going to put these small local breweries out of business, nor will it change the need and desire for small local bottle shops that introduce people to these great brands.

So, to you, Anheuser-Busch InBev, I say well-played. I think you're doing what must be done to stay afloat. And to you, small craft breweries out there, keep fighting the good fight. Make the growth decisions that are best for you and your brand. Live the life you want to live, and if you can do that without selling out, then stick it to the man!

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