Anheuser-Busch seeks to return beer category to consistent growth with 'Elevate' initiative for its craft brewers

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

An emphasis on beer and food pairing will be part of the Elevate initiative, says The High End president. Pic: Anheuser-Busch
An emphasis on beer and food pairing will be part of the Elevate initiative, says The High End president. Pic: Anheuser-Busch

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The High End, Anheuser-Busch’s (A-B) US craft beer and imports division, has launched an initiative called “Elevate” to address recent consecutive years of soft category growth by attracting new consumers to the category.

The concept is divided into four pillars which are focused on improving beer quality, setting better environmental standards, helping local communities, and growing the industry.

US beer volume sales were static in 2016 (1.9%) losing some footing over the past few years to wine and spirits, according to Nielsen.

Craft beer, which once experienced dollar sales growth in the realm of 15% to 18% between 2013 and 2016, has slowed significantly to 2.9% for the year ended Jan. 28, 2017, according to Nielsen-measured off-premise channels.

The High End consists of several craft beer brands such as 10 Barrel Brewing Co, Goose Island, Wicked Weed Brewing, Karbach Brewing Co., and Elysian Brewing.

The Elevate platform was created with the guidance of A-B’s Craft Advisory Board, made up of the founders and general managers of the craft breweries. 

“Elevate concentrates our focus on what truly matters: to raise the sophistication of beer and create new beer occasions,”​ Felipe Szpigel, president of The High End, said.

“We do this with a clear goal in mind: To return our category to consistent growth and close the gap with wine and spirits.We see wine and liquor as our competitors.”

As A-B works on each of its goals with the craft brewers in its portfolio, it will share third-party verification data from KPMG along the way, Szpigel said.

“Transparency is absolutely essential to building trust in our organizations.”

Elevate's four pillars

1) Better beer: 'best consumed by' date coding in 2018

2) Better environment: solar panels at all craft breweries in 2018; transition to 100% solar and wind renewable electricity by 2020

3) Better communities: $2m dedicated to community projects chosen by craft brewers

4) Better industry: opening the world of beer with events, new experiences and education programs

More information is available here.

Linking beer with sophistication

Part of cultivating a more sophisticated perception of beer is a push towards beer and food pairings, particularly cheese, Szpigel said.

“Cheese is amazing and there are a lot of similarities in flavor profile,”​ he said.

“Wine is still the beverage of choice and we want to change that. If beer takes on that space, all of us will benefit.”

According to Szpigel, A-B will create partnerships with well-known chefs like Stephanie Izard (named Best Chef by the James Beard Foundation in 2013) to further connect the beer and culinary industries.

The High End will also be implementing a “best by”​ expiration date across all its brands products to ensure product quality for consumers.

“In 2018, you will see all of our craft partners shift to ‘best if consumed by’ dates so consumers know the time frame in which their beers will taste the best,”​ Szpigel said.

“We hope all brewers to adopt this practice as well as it’s truly best for consumers.”

In the same realm of ensuring product quality, each of A-B’s craft partners will host open-door quality assurance and safety seminars for craft breweries in their local communities.

Environmental and community impact

By 2020, The High End plans to have shifted to 100% solar and renewable electricity at all of its craft partners’ facilities by installing solar panels while also reducing water usage by at least 20%.

Recognizing craft breweries are typically active in their local communities, A-B has pledged at least $2m to go towards organizations of their craft partners’ choice in 2018.

“We need to be real about this work and return the industry to the growth we know it deserves,”​ Szpigel said.

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