Budweiser Brewing Group, the new name for AB InBev UK & Ireland, makes some of the world’s best loved beers, including Stella Artois, Budweiser, Corona, Michelob Ultra, Bud Light, Beck’s, Bass and Boddingtons. In a major opportunity for UK wholesalers, Budweiser Brewing Group is investing in growing its presence in the off-trade. It has expanded its channel team and appointed Jess Markowski to be Sales Director – Convenience and Wholesale. Jess Markowski speaks to Wholesale Manager.

“Wholesale and convenience are a growing area of our UK business and a key part of our overall strategy. The wholesale sector has changed and we’re seeing harmonisation and natural progression for wholesalers to become bigger.”

Jess was appointed to her new role in March, after 11 years with AB Inbev as Retail and Convenience Account Controller and Head of Trade Marketing UK:

“This new position is a very exciting opportunity, working with customers, directing our enlarged team, managing customers and bringing in best practice from our global and European business.”

Jess is supported by three senior leads with their own specialist teams, each aligned to different wholesale groups groups, and a virtual cross-functional team covering such important areas as trade marketing and category management, specifically dedicated to the convenience and wholesale channel. With all the noise surrounding craft beers, Jess is keen to clarify Budweiser’s position on these high-profile products: “The definition of craft beers has blurred over time. Previously it was about niche products and pence per litre, now the super-premium sector is being led by craft lagers.”

Definitions aside, craft beer is continuing to perform well, says Jess, growing at a very healthy 29.4% according to Nielsen data:

“The category is benefiting from new and exciting players entering the industry, keeping it continually invigorated. Twenty-four per cent of new value in craft beer is from NPD, demonstrating the importance of innovation to the category. Within the category, Camden Hells continues its strong growth, retaining its position as one of the best-selling beers with retailers.”

Budweiser Brewing Group’s most notable brands for wholesalers are Michelob Ultra and their other global brands Bud Light, Stella Artois and Corona. They also market a number of craft and world beers including Goose Island, Camden Hells as mentioned earlier, plus Corona and Hoegaarden, all showing strong performance.

“In other developments we’re seeing the growth of the on-the-go market, people purchasing beer during their commute for that night at home. We’re also seeing more occasional purchases and more digital sales, with people buying on the phone and the expansion of the ecommerce marketplace.”

“Consumers’ take-home beer consumption is changing too,” says Jess, “with no sign of the trend in moderation slowing. The products we have launched recently cater for this, namely Budweiser Prohibition, Michelob Ultra and Bud Light.”

As a leading brewer, Budweiser Brewing Group is committed to supporting moderate drinking through its Smart Drinking Goals:

“We have pledged that twenty percent of our global beer volume will be low or no alcohol by 2025,” says Jess. “Currently about 7-8% of our UK volumes are low-no alcohol. We have programmes in place to grow the no alcohol/low alcohol category further and along with it, boost sales of our Budweiser ‘Prohibition Brew’ Alcoholfree lager.”

In terms of category management advice to wholesalers, Jess is clear about the task in hand:

“It’s ultimately about choice, ensuring you have the right products. You need to know your retail customers and the demographics in your area. The growing categories are craft beers, speciality beers and no alcohol/low alcohol. Global beer brands are also increasingly important.”

With independent retailers and wholesalers increasingly buying stocks on line, Budweiser Brewing Group are helping wholesalers drive their lagers, beer and cider business digitally and in other exciting new ways with their growth and innovation group ZX Ventures.

Launched in 2015, ZX aims to develop new products and start-ups that address emerging consumer needs, including international craft and speciality beer, e-commerce, homebrewing and brand experience. ZX Ventures’ UK team is based in Budweiser Brewing Group’s London office with the rest of the UK team.

Much of Budweiser Brewing Group’s UK advertising activity happens in the summer. “This is a peak time of year for us,” says Jess, “with much of our volume coming through in the warmer months.”

Last year during the World Cup period Budweiser deployed a number of tactics to get customers excited about the tournament and position the brand as the beer of choice, encouraging stocking. Jess recalls:

“We took over depots with Budweiser branding, hosted BBQs, and ran competitions to drive engagement and bring the World Cup to life. After the World Cup, to maintain momentum, we ran a Bud Light competition in which consumers could “Win a Castle” experience for ten friends. To celebrate this, we developed disruptive castle displays in wholesalers which drove customer engagement and ran a competition giving retailers the opportunity to win free fuel for a year. Our Win a Castle activation was nominated at the POPAI Awards.”

This year Budweiser is the brand sponsor of the England team in the Women’s Football World Cup and Stella Artois is involved with Wimbledon and Ascot. These events and other key occasions over the summer will also be supported with ad spend above the line: “Last year was a great summer for us, and we’re hoping for something similar this time round.”

The UK beer marketplace is completely changing, says Jess as we end our interview:

“This is an exciting industry to be in and coming into this job as the first female lead in Budweiser Brewing Group in this channel, I’m ready for a challenge. The consumer is changing to moderation and their overall attitudes to drink are shifting too, with the emphasis firmly on health and wellbeing. This is a growing development that need to be upheld and supported, and we can provide great products to meet these trends.”

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