Sunday, February 08, 2009

"Born-on" dying

Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABIB) has dropped the 'born-on' date on some of its beers. The Belgium-based beer conglomerate cited recent "significant improvements" to its brewing process.

Although a marketing term, the 'born-on date' may have been one of the more important contributions the formerly independent American brewery Anheuser-Busch gave to the beer world. With its millions of dollars of marketing support, the 'born-on date' promulgated the message that beer is, by its nature, a perishable commodity.

Many, but not all, 'craft breweries' are also willing to remove stale beer from the shelves: a short-term debit, but —true to the 'craft-beer' credo— a long-term better business strategy.

Fresh beer is the best beer.

For years, Anheuser-Busch has been unbending when it comes to its beer’s shelf life. If A-B beer went 110 days without selling, A-B crews would sweep into bars and restaurants and hand the retailer a check for the value of the beer. They would grab the beer, break the bottles and pour the liquid out. No exceptions.

Now, the brewer says it has realized that the 110-day limit might not be necessary. Why? The company says it has improved its brewing processes and packaging — using new fillers and bottle crowns, for example — that reduce the amount of oxygen in its beers.

The company is allowing its new and niche beers to stay on the market longer — as long as 180 days in some instances. It is also dropping its “born on” date from the small brands, although the beers will still have a code showing the packaging date.

Anheuser-Busch extends shelf life, drops “born on” date for small beer brands
By Jeremiah McWilliams
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The Schlitz Brewing Co. infamously altered its brewing procedures in the 1970s, claiming "improvements". The changes failed, and sales for the #2 brewer in the US declined so precipitously that within 10 years the brewery had been sold.

Anheuser-Busch InBev's recent decision is not of that miserable ilk.

Instead, one might assume that improvements —or at least changes believed to be such— are constant 'givens' at all successful breweries, let alone most businesses.

But was the shelf life of ABIB's beers really improved by a whopping 60% in one year?

Fat chance.

This was a change cooked up by the financial managers at ABIB —looking at a $52 billion dollar debt load and current worldwide poor economic conditions— not by the brewers.

And, to be precise, it's only a limited re-do. Brands Budweiser, Bud Light, Bud Select, Busch, and Natural Light will retain the 110 day limit and imprinted 'born-on' date. That limited selection itself begs the question: does ABIB have more confidence in the flavor stability of its 'lesser' brands than of its powerhouses?

The full rejection of 'born-on' is probably only a matter of time ... which brings up a final, and perhaps more significant, issue.

America's iconic beer brand now belongs to an international conglomerate. Like the beer or not, it will no longer be the same Budweiser.

1 comment:

  1. Was AB the first to put bottling dates on bottles? I associate that with the late Old Dominion.

    Any truth to the story about a Busch family member finding stale beer in a bar somewhere on night, and the regional distributor being awaken to restock the inventory, or losing his distributorship, or something like that?


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