What Happens When the Bean Counters Step In?

Stan replied to my previous post, and you can read his entire comment at that entry -- but I want to highlight something he wrote:

I worry, since they've been a great supporter of the Halltertau hops region, about what happens to the hops growers there when the bean counters step in.

He's referring here to Anheuser-Busch InBev, which is now in the hands of bean counters par excellence. Stan's right to worry, as are those hops growers. Indeed, one of my fears during the Great Takeover was that A-B will go the way of other great breweries that have been destroyed by bean counters -- the classic example being, of course, the spectacular collapse of Schlitz Brewing in the 1970s.

I console myself with this thought: People at A-B have read and studied my book (that's not intended to be boastful; it's fact), and so they know about what happened at Schlitz. Maybe they can persuade Brito to read that section of that chapter. (*1) Time will tell

. __________________

*1: A used copy of the book, of course, because he'd never agree to, ya know, buying a new copy. Although the library at ABI is still intact and it contains several copies. So the guy has no excuse.

Yes, A-B WILL Be At the Super Bowl

Ah. Finally. The answer to a question that I've been pondering for months: Would new, leaner, meaner Anheuser-Busch InBev scale back A-B's traditionally, ahem, major presence during the Super Bowl?

The answer, apparently, is no. If you watch the game, you'll see 4.5 minutes of A-B IB advertising. Worth noting, if only because television ads, especially during the Super Bowl, are the main flaw in the main event of what is otherwise a months-long, televised, guaranteed cure for insomnia.

Tip o' the mug to a number of sources, some "free," some not -- but my (free) favorite is Jeremiah McWilliams at Lager Heads.

Today's Update From Anheuser-Busch

Jeremiah McWilliams, our man-on-the-scene in St. Louis (okay, not MY man on the scene, but you get my drift), has an update on the layoffs, including a eye-witness account from a now-former A-B employee. Read it here. And while you're at it, why not add Jeremiah's Lager Heads to your rss feed? (How do I love thee, rss feed. Let me count the ways.) On the other hand, if you do that, then you have no reason to visit my blog. What to do? What to do?

Things Are Getting Ugly At A-B InBev

Hmmmm.......... My anonymous commenter yesterday may be right. Because this sure ain't reassuring...... Again, much of this would have happened no matter who was in charge. After all, August IV more or less had to promise this in order to stave off the sale of the company (not, of course, that it did him any good.) And then the economy tanked. Still. The brute reality is, well, ugly. As always, my thoughts -- and my perhaps-unwarranted-optimism -- are with the good folks in St. Louis.

Ruminations [And Anger And Sadness] From A Former Anheuser-Busch Employee

Yesterday, I got an email from a former employee at Anheuser-Busch. He's obviously not happy about being laid off, but he's also sad about the sale of the company and fears for its future under the new InBev regime. He gave me permission to post his comments -- anonymously. His first email to me came in response to my comments yesterday on Stuart Varney's program on Fox Business Network (I'm a regular contributor to Varney's show.)

Just saw your interview on FBN with Varney. Shame on your frivolous approach to a complex industry. Many of the jobs cuts will profoundly effect the final product. Packaging materials such as glass and cans can be bought at varying levels of quality. Brewing materials such as rice can be purchased here in the U.S. (unbroken grains) as well as Africa, Europe and Asia )who knows). The best are procured, tested and packaged by a highly competent group of people that will no longer be employed.

If Inbev were such a great company, why have they never had any meaningful organic growth with any of their current portfolio of brands? Everything that they've accomplished has been through buying other companies and cut, cut, cut.

Don't dismiss this American business success as bloated.

He's right: I unintentionally sounded callous. At the time, I was simply responding to Stuart's question, but I did not add my usual caveats about the human toll the sale would have. I was assuming, stupidly, that most people listening had seen me before (I'm on regularly) and knew how much I had opposed the sale and how much I feared for the company's future. I got a nice reply from him, which is also worth sharing:

As you probably figured out I just took the enhanced retirement package after 30 years of proud service in packaging material design. So now I have time to watch FBN in the middle of the day! Having said that, the sad reality is that most of my former colleagues will shortly become unemployed along with most of the engineers that made the delicate balance between cost efficiency and quality happen.

Myself and former department are well aware of the current quality of materials that Inbev has been importing to the U.S. through the previous distribution agreement and it certainly is not up to the standards that we tried to build for our brands. Just look at their packaging on the store shelves.

Only time will tell if Inbev develops plans to purchase commodities as has been done in the past or elects to reach out to the best "worldwide" sourcing and pricing.

Lastly, I don't accept that Inbev is a marketing company. If they were, Stella, Becks, LaBatt's and their South American brands would be worldwide better sellers. My belief is that they had wrung all the costs out of those acquisitions and needed a way to "grow" something new.

Well, enough of my "highly partisan" point of view about AB. I'm not really a harsh person, just protective of the house that beer built.

My thanks to him for taking the time to write, and to share his views with me (and you). As I told him, I am optimistic (perhaps stupidly so) that the people at A-B will take a cue from what happened at Schlitz and not screw with the beer. We can hope........

On The A-B/InBev Job Cuts

By now the news out of St. Louis is about a day old: Job cuts at Anheuser-Busch. Lots of them. Not surprising. August IV more-or-less promised them last summer while the InBev deal was still a bad dream. Still -- a sad day for the fine folks at A-B, who are, in my experience, dedicated to their work and the company. I'm sure they knew it was coming but .... For excellent coverage on the event, I turn the "mic" over to the man-on--the-beat, Jeremiah McWilliams at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The link is to his "Lager Heads" blog, but there's plenty of other team coverage by Jeremiah and his colleagues here. To my friends at A-B: I'm thinking of you.