Feature

AB InBev just got ‘weiser’, but it ain’t getting high anytime soon

The beer giant that owns Budweiser has been struggling in India, and is now focusing on premium and super premium categories to grow 

'Be A King’ goes the tagline. Ironically, a woman passes the crowded dimly-lit dance floor at a club and takes over the console. She’s a DJ, commanding their pulse with her beats. The theme continues, in a more recent commercial. This time, taking centre-stage is Siri Narayan, one of India’s handful female multi-lingual rappers. 

There’s a streak of rebelliousness and a sense of breaking free in each of these narratives — a vibe that Budweiser’s parent AB InBev flaunts, be it in strategy or office interiors. “I have never been afraid to state my ambition and this company allows me to do so,” gushes the newly appointed South Asia president, Kartikeya Sharma, whose seat is at the centre of a massive white bow-shaped table, which he shares with other senior colleagues in an open-office structure.

AB InBev is the largest beer manufacturer globally, brewing close to one-third of the world’s beer. But, despite its might and mammoth portfolio of nearly 500 brands internationally such as Budweiser, Corona, Beck’s, Hoegaarden, Leffe and Stella Artois, it has struggled in India since its direct entry in 2007. While Euromonitor data puts AB InBev’s 2018 share of the Indian beer market at 21.3%, much of that market share was a legacy gift that came its way, courtesy the acquisition of SABMiller by the parent in October 2015 (See: Hop to the top). 

SABMiller India at the time of acquisition enjoyed around 20% market share, thanks to having bought Shaw Wallace’s beer brands such as Royal Challenge, Haywards, Hi-Five, Lal Toofan, Rosy Pelican and Kohinoor in 2003. SABMiller India’s own brands then included Castle and Knock Out (acquired from Mysore Breweries). Currently, on a standalone basis, SABMiller India still has 17.9% market share while AB InBev India has 3.4% (compared with 3.2% in 2015). In contrast, Carlsberg, which entered the market in May 2006, now has 18.2% market share. This uphill battle for AB InBev has been because of entrenched competition, missed opportunity and local market vagaries. Let’s examine each of these. 

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