A New A-B Goes to Work

Shared strengths expected, fresh initiatives on tap for Anheuser-Busch InBev

ST. LOUIS -- SKU optimization, deliveries on weekends or at night: These are some of the high-priority projects Anheuser-Busch is undertaking in 2009. But don't blame or credit such changes on the company's recent purchase by InBev. Both projects predate that deal, according to Evan Athanas, vice president of sales for St. Louis-based A-B. And now that the layoff of about 1,400 employees is complete, Athanas said he expects retailers will see little overall change from the company that accounts for 60% of beer sales in c-stores.

"C-stores are critically important to us. [image-nocss] It's our best channel from a share standpoint. We will continue to be committed to servicing those retailers," Athanas told CSP Daily News in an exclusive interview. "We don't expect any services to change as it relates to what we provide to c-stores. If anything, we're going to get better, both at cross-'merch' programming, merchandising and services."

The most immediate changes retailers will see are service improvements that were put into action long before Belgium-based InBev made its first unsolicited bid to buy A-B in June. The deal eventually became official and closed Nov. 19 to the tune of about $52 billion. The new company is called Anheuser-Busch InBev.

"I think we're going to be better for our recent merger with the best-practice sharing of two great companies that we're going to apply here in the U.S.," Athanas said. "[InBev is] very, very good at sales execution, tracking and measuring. I think we do a lot of things very well. We were moving as a sales group toward more of a performance-driven culture, and I think they're going to help us do that. They're all about making sure that we're executing, hitting on all cylinders, that we don't have any gaps and if we do that we have action plans in place to close them."

First up is a process to weed out under-performing product SKUs-sometimes complete brands (Tequiza), other times slow-moving packages-to make the most of the space in the cold vault.
"I think that's especially important when you're talking c-stores with limited space," Athanas said. "It's incumbent upon us as partners with our c-stores to make sure we have our fastest-moving SKUs because that real estate is so valuable and demands such a high return that we know our partner, the retailer, can't afford to have slower-moving SKUs."

In another effort, A-B is making strides in getting its wholesalers to adopt evening and weekend delivery times.

"We've already started to do that in a lot of markets with a heavy c-store density," Athanas said. "It gets the trucks off the parking lot [during the day]. It gets another security person in the store during non-peak hours. So we think that's a huge initiative that will help c-stores. We're trying to evolve our business both marketing and sales and service to meet the demands of our c-store retailers."

[For more of CSP's exclusive interview, watch for the February issue of CSP Magazine.]

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