It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Did you know the George Orwell of beer is AB-InBev? Hear me out. As sales of hoppy IPAs
continue to surge, and sales of Light (and Lite) macrobrews continue to drop, AB-InBev is
recalibrating its approach. Rather than buying up as many craft-beer producers as it can, it's
using its vast resources to buy data — tons of it — through a little-known division called ZX
Ventures. This is really subversive stuff, Bill, and I don't like it.
Launched in 2015, ZX Ventures is charged with "disrupting" the beer industry by developing
and investing in businesses that will provide value and improve user experiences — and make
more money for AB InBev — somewhere down the road. They've invested in e-commerce
delivery systems, beer-rating applications and home-brew suppliers, all of which provide data
points that can tell them about trends and help them get ahead of the market. According to its
mission statement, "ZX Ventures is hopelessly dedicated to creating and analyzing the data
necessary for determining our ideal strategies, products and technologies. We believe that the
more we know and learn about our consumers and products, the better chance we have of
anticipating their needs in the future."
How are they doing it? Well, In ZX Ventures' broad portfolio includes last year's purchase of
Northern Brewer Homebrew Supply and Midwest Supplies, two of the largest home-brewing
businesses in the country. It also has a minority stake in PicoBrew, the countertop home-
brewing system that uses Keuriglike "PicoPacks" to make beer in a certain style or mimic the
recipe of an existing brand. And of course Bill, you remember when ZX Ventures purchased
a minority interest in RateBeer. We both wondered why they would want to won a 17-year-old
international beer-rating site. The answer is that it had become one of the largest online
databases of crowdsourced beer, brewery and bar rankings in the world. But, this is key,
neither RateBeer nor ZX Ventures publicized the deal until a year after it happened and then
only did so when beer website Good Beer Hunting published a story about the move.
Information is power and the more In-Bev has the likely they will use it against craft beer!
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time!
Hello Gina -
Well you never cease to surprise me with out topics each month. I remember when In-Bev
bought Rate Beer and recall you saying that they would try to goose their products notoriously
bad ratings on the site — 10 of the "top" 20 slots on the "Worst Beer in the World" list are AB
InBev products, including Natural Light at No. 1 and Natural Ice at No. 2 — or get preferential
placement for reviews. I told you that you fears seemed unfounded since RateBeer's audience,
gives its highest praise to imperial IPAs or rare Belgian beers and isn't looking for Bud Light
Chelada. But now you've made it clear what I've always suspected. The ZX Ventures team is
interested in access to a large number of data points: The most popular and trending beers,
styles and search terms in any region around the world.
I think they want to know things like are more people giving high ratings to saisons in London
than Los Angeles? Are Bavarians searching for IPAs available to them? What are the most
highly rated beer bars in the Southeast? Which beer styles have grown the most in the last
year, in terms of average ratings or the number of searches, and where? If certain cities are
rating sour beers higher than the norm, for example, Elysian's sour pineapple seasonal or a
new wild saison from Wicked Weed could be given extra promotional play in those markets.
I hope you're not going to get too upset when I tell you that in Europe ZX Ventures has acquired
Beer Hawk, a UK-based online craft beer retailer, and Saveur Biere, the leading French online
craft shop. Both increasingly sell AB InBev products, but also offer the AB InBev researchers
plenty of data to consider.
If you want a look at the future Gina, where e-commerce meets data wholly within an AB InBev
ecosystem, turn to Brazil. It's AB InBev's second-largest market after the United States. After a
long day on the beach, a thirsty Brazilian can fire up Ze, a service that promises one-hour beer
delivery in 10 major cities, including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. (ZX is also an investor in
Starship Technologies robotic delivery service.) When the bottles are empty, the drinker can go
to an app called BeHoppy, which helps find, log and rate craft beers, similar to our app Untappd.
It can even display information about a beer if the user takes a picture of the label.
It's all a bit overwhelming I agree but take heart Gina, it's not going to happen here due to the
three-tier system of alcohol in this country, which separates breweries from means of
distribution and consumer sales to prevent monopolies. Existing laws in many states would
prohibit AB-InBev - either directly or indirectly - holding an ownership interest in an off-premise
retailer capable of delivering beer to consumers. So as I see it, If e-commerce is off the table,
then the most important way for AB InBev to make money in an increasingly crowded
marketplace is to get the right beer in front of the right customers at the right time. And if you
truly love craft beer there will never be a right time or place for their products.
Here's looking at you Gina