How Did They Do?

 lost its title as the largest brewer in the world last year when Belgium’s InBev became the largest brewer by volume. But the King of Beers still holds the top spot in beer sales, and last year increased shipments to wholesalers 0.4 percent. The company holds nearly half of the total U.S. beer market, but its share was down a tenth of a point from 2003. For the first quarter of this year, A-B has reported domestic volumes are down 2.7 percent vs. the same period last year.
The St. Louis-based brewer has increased its marketing spending 6 to 7 percent for 2005 and will put patriotism front and center with a “Here’s to the Heroes Tour 2005” that will let consumers record messages to U.S. soldiers. The company is playing up its “made in the USA” advantage now that competitors Miller and Coors both have non-U.S. ownership components.
Outside of the United States, Mexico reportedly is A-B’s biggest market, turning in double-digit growth last year. In China, the company acquired Harbin Brewery, producer of Hapi beer, and increased its interest in Tsingtao to 27 percent, making it the largest non-government shareholder.
Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, came out swinging in 2004, and caught some in the industry off guard. Miller’s domestic beer shipments were down 0.4 percent for 2004, but the company was up 5.9 percent in the second-half of the year, thanks to improved sales of flagship Miller Lite.
With an ad campaign that took its cues from the Pepsi Challenge of the 1970s, Miller Lite went after the competition with flavor comparisons. The “Good Call” campaign gave Miller Lite a much-needed boost, but there are those who feel taking potshots at the competition was a bad call for the industry in general.
“Milwaukee and St. Louis got into a nasty battle with each other last year and that damaged the beer category,” says Bump Williams, executive vice president, general manager of Information Resources Inc.’s beer, wine and spirits division.
A-B convinced several television networks to stop airing Miller’s ads and then took false advertising complaints to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. But the ATTTB recently ruled in Miller’s favor, saying the ads did not violate regulations relating to comparative advertising.
On the new products front, Miller is said to be testing a new malt beverage called Brutal Fruit that is aimed at women. The product hails from South Africa, where parent company SAB says it was strongly received.
2005 has been a big year for Molson Coors, the company created by the merger of Golden, Colo.’s Coors Brewing Co. and Montreal’s Molson Inc. The companies called the move “a merger of equals,” and cited cost synergies as one of its benefits, but first-quarter results have been less positive. U.S volume was down 4.1 percent and volume in Canada was off 7.2 percent for the quarter.
For 2004, Coors reports total shipments were down 1 percent vs. 2003, while U.S. shipments were down 0.7 percent. Net sales for the year were up 7.6 percent, and 3 percent in the United States.
Among the first of Molson Coors’ moves was the announcement that it would close its Memphis, Tenn., brewery in order to optimize its brewing and packaging operations.
While a smaller player in the United States, InBev, based in Leuven, Belgium, became the world’s largest brewer by volume in 2004. The company created by the merger of Belgium’s Interbrew and Brazil’s AmBev, reported a 60 percent volume increase as a result of the merger, with 3.3 percent organic growth in 2004. During the first quarter of 2005, the company turned in 4.4 percent organic growth.
InBev’s U.S. business echoed the organic growth trend at 3 percent in 2004, with strong performances from Beck’s, Bass and Stella Artois. First-quarter ’05 results, however, were down 13.5 percent vs. the same period last year.
Regarding InBev’s U.S. prospects, IRI’s Williams says Stella Artois and Bass are, “two big imports in limited distribution with a great upside potential.”
The addition of AmBev’s Brahma, which the company will be taking global this year, also will boost the import portfolio. The Brazilian brand could help offset the loss of the FEMSA brands that the company lost to Heineken in the United States.
Heineken, best known in the United States for its flagship Dutch beer, has expanded during the past year to also include FEMSA’s Tecate, Dos Equis, Sol, Carta Blanca and Bohemia brands. Heineken said the Mexican brands complement its lineup of imports, and the move increased its volume 28 percent to give it a 26 percent share of the U.S. import market.
The company also announced it would delve farther into the industry’s other big growth segment — light beer — with the rollout of Heineken Premium Light Lager later this year.