The Anheuser Busch InBev (AB InBev) company is one of the largest brewers in the world.  It was formed between 2004 and 2008 in a series of mergers and buyouts which saw Interbrew (then a major Belgian brewer) merge with AmBev (the dominant beer producer in South America) to form InBev who then brought out Anheuser-Busch (the biggest brewer in the Northern Americas) to form Anheuser-Busch InBev.  In the years since AB InBev was formed, the appetite for growing the empire hasn’t dimmed, the most recent purchase being of Mexico’s biggest brewer Grupo Modelo and with it the Corona and Modelo beer brands.

Even before this monolithic giant was formed, the separated companies were rapidly swallowing up or merging with a number of smaller brewers.  Each of the original 3 companies, Interbrew, AmBev and Anheuser Busch were all effectively formed by the amalgamation of that region’s or country’s major brewing interests.  All this means that they have a massive portfolio of brands, their list of global brands has some of the most recognisable lager names in the world including Corona, Becks, Stella Artois and Budweiser.  In all there are over 200 brands contained within the company now and according to a 2010 report at least 14 of them had passed $1 billion in annual sales induvidually.  In 2012, they announced a profit after tax of $9.4 billion on sales of $40 billion as a group.

This is a company who knows how to make serious amounts of money, however even in this context, their latest attempt to make more money from their customers in the US even seems cynical.  For Budweiser in that country, they are marketing an additional new “box tie shaped” pinched can to ape their logo.  The new can will contain a reduced amount of beer (334ml v 355ml), use more metal to produce and cost at least the same amount for the customer to buy (making it more expensive per millilitre of beer).  However they do point out that it contains 8.5 calories less than a regular can of beer due to the smaller volume of beer, but are only selling it in packs of 8 rather the 6 pack which the traditional can is delivered to stores in, thus negating the health benefits as inevitably the two extra cans will just be drank anyway.

The difference in the pack size is also a deliberate decision as it removes the customers ability to compare prices quickly on a like for like basis.  It also contains double the amount of aluminium of a traditional can, so it feels heavier and has a very similar total weight to the older design with less beer inside.  The deliberate sizing of the packaging to fit into the same cube of space is also tactical ploy to convince customers that the same amount of beer is contained in both designs.  Many other product sectors have been doing this for years, but generally 99.9% of beers cans look the same if you strip the printed design off, some are just taller than others.  The only one I know which looks different is Sapporo which uses a tall, ribbed tapered can design.

Of course the ultimate goal of this exercise is to cut costs and make more profit on each sale while avoiding raising prices during what is still a stagnant economy. But they are also trying to revive a declining brand.  Sales have been declining in America for 25 years, in 1988, one in 4 beers sold in the US was Budweiser, in 2011 it was one in 12.  The same year Miller Lite overtook it to become the country’s best selling beer.   Budweiser has become more perceived as an “old mans” beer there.  Of course in the UK, the Budweiser brand is a lot younger and still has that perception as a younger persons beer.

When speaking to the media they state “We know there are a large number of consumers out there looking for new things, the trend-seekers” . The problem is these trend-seekers are discovering far superior beers from one of the hundreds of small craft breweries which exist, a number which is increasing at a healthy rate every year in the US (mirroring the healthy state of the UK brewing scene).  Following on from this they say “We expect both our core beer drinkers and new customers to try it.”, but why would a slightly pinched can make you buy Bud when you didn’t before.  I can see their point about existing customers and the curiosity purchase, but will it be more than a one off choice before returning to standard cans.  I have my doubts.

  1. Jolly Jock says:

    I so hoped this was a late April Fool, it’s such an odd one. Why short-measure in a way that costs yourself as a producer money? Apparently the packaging has been in development since 2010, and has required significant plant changes, so it’s not just consumers asking “why?”. Says a lot about the intended market when the most positive comments seem to be that it’ll make the can easier to hold. If you can’t get to the pub/bar, they could at least get a glass 😉

    • santobugtio says:

      It is an odd one, it not like a cereal pack where you just reduce the size of the inner pack, a beer can and its dimensions is visible to all, they try to distract from the size reduction, but it doesn’t work.