The first step?
Anheuser-Busch signed a deal to be the sole U.S. distributor of Grolsch beer, a high-end European import.
The deal will become effective in January 2007, and will give Netherlands-based Grolsch access to Anheuser-Busch’s national distribution system of 600 beer wholesalers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but an Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman said A-B will not take any ownership of Grolsch.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction, in recognizing that the company needs to partake in the import and superior premium category,” said Carlos Laboy, an analyst with Bear Stearns Equity Research in New York.
The bottom line: the move is good news for Anheuser-Busch beer wholesalers, who have been unhappy because A-B sales have been flat while microbrewed beers and imports enjoyed growth going on 10% per year.
That’s why rumors abound that A-B will make a deal with one or more American craft brewers – perhaps a distribution deal or one that include A-b taking equity in the craft brewery (or breweries – ala Redhook and Widmer). The folks pushing Bud, Bud Light and the recently popular Bud Select want to sell higher margin beers.
Perhaps Grolsch is only the start.