Anheuser-Busch’s new brews

The Canadian arm of the beer giant is looking within its own roster of brands for ways to capitalize on changing tastes and trends.

This story appears in the May 2015 issue of strategy.

Anheuser-Busch InBev is looking to product innovation this summer in an attempt to give Canadians the variety they’re clamouring for, including a new brand launching here first.

This spring, the company will launch Bud Light Apple. Kyle Norrington, VP of marketing at Labatt Breweries of Canada, says the decision to launch it in Canada comes from consumer research showing the popularity of apple as a beer flavour and momentum the company has been seeing in flavoured beer as a whole. The new brand is also under the Bud Light label because of the success it had the last time it attempted an entry into a flavoured, more “refreshing” kind of beer.

“When we talked to consumers, we were surprised with how easy it was for us to get into that space because of the credibility Bud Light Lime provided us,” he says.

Norrington says Bud Light Apple is a big deal for the company this year, and the major push behind it will roll out at the end of April and through May, with creative by Anomaly and experiential by Mosaic. But the launch campaign will be built around a summer theme, similar to Bud Light Lime’s in 2009.

“Bud Light continues to grow at a rapid pace in Canada, and it’s always better to innovate behind a brand when you’re healthy,” he says. “We’re also in a fortunate place where we’re part of company with a portfolio of brands operating on a global scale that we can choose from when it’s most relevant to what there’s demand for in Canada.”

That scale, combined with the ease at which beer enthusiasts can share information around the globe, also means Anheuser-Busch InBev can launch foreign beers in Canada more easily. This is the case with its other big summer launch, Modelo Especial.

“There are a lot of people out there who probably know Modelo Especial is a very credible brand in Mexico,” Norrington says. “We’re starting in a better place than we were 15 years ago when people didn’t have the same kind of exposure to information.”

Modelo Especial is a premium beer brewed by Corona’s brewer Grupo Modelo. Though this is its first entry into Canada, the brand has been one of the top beers in Mexico since 1925 and recently displaced Heineken as the second-biggest import beer in the U.S., behind Corona. Between its unique bottle shape and gold foil-lined label, the brand is positioned as a premium offering, which will be reflected in a campaign by Zulu Alpha Kilo.

“People are looking for premium options in all categories,” Norrington says. “The high-end side of the business continues to grow, and you want to make sure you have a relevant portfolio.”

Part of the demand for more variety stems from the increasing strength of other beer and alcohol options. Last year, a Statistics Canada report said strength in wine caused beer’s market share in the alcohol category to fall to 43% in 2013, down from 50% 10 years prior. And while craft brewers accounted for 6% of total beer sales at that time, much has still been made of the influx of new players, especially given craft beer’s rapid growth (sales in Ontario tripled between 2002 and 2014, with sales in B.C. going up by 38% in a single year). Despite this, Norrington says when consumers pay this much attention to a single category, it benefits everyone operating in it.

“With this many people talking about beer,” Norrington says, “it just gives us more of an opportunity to see where the trends are headed so we can ensure we can have whatever flavour or style ready when the moment is right.”