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  • Operations Strategy

    Cross fertilization of best practices between sites was a central component of

    Interbrew’'s operations strategy. In the company’'s two main markets, Belgium and

    Canada, each brewery monitored its performance on 10 different dimensions

    against its peers. As a result, the gap between the best and the worst of Interbrew’'s

    operations had narrowed decisively since 1995. Employees continuously put

    forward propositions to improve processes. The program had resulted in

    significantly lower production costs, suggesting to Interbrew management that

    most improvements had more to do with employee motivation than with pure

    technical performance. In addition, capacity utilization and strategic sourcing had

    been identified as two areas of major opportunity.

    Capacity Utilization

    Given that brewing was a capital-intensive business, capacity utilization had a

    major influence on profitability. Since declining consumption in mature markets

    had generated excess capacity, several of Interbrew’'s old breweries and processing

    facilities were scheduled to be shut down. In contrast, in several growth markets

    such as Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Montenegro, the opposite problem existed,

    so facilities in other locations were used more fully until local capacities were


    Strategic Sourcing

    Interbrew had begun to rationalize its supply base as well. By selecting a smaller

    number of its best suppliers and working more closely with them, Interbrew

    believed that innovative changes resulted, saving both parties considerable sums

    every year. For most of the major commodities, the company had gone to single

    suppliers and was planning to extend this approach to all operations worldwide.

    Market Strategy

    The underlying objectives of Interbrew’'s market strategy were to increase volume

    and to lessen its dependence on Belgium and Canada, its two traditional markets.

    Interbrew dichotomized its market strategy into the mature and growth market

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    segments, although investments were considered wherever opportunities to

    generate sustainable profits existed. One of the key elements of Interbrew’'s

    market strategy was to establish and manage strong market platforms. It was

    believed that a brand strength was directly related to a competitive and dedicated

    market platform (i.e., sales and distribution, wholesaler networks, etc.) to support

    the brand. Further, Interbrew allowed individual country teams to manage their

    own affairs and many felt that the speed of success in many markets was related to

    this decentralized approach.

    Mature markets

    Interbrew’'s goals in its mature markets were to continue to build market share and

    to improve margins through greater efficiencies in production, distribution and

    marketing. At the same time, the company intended to exploit the growing trend

    in these markets towards premium and specialty products of which Interbrew

    already possessed an unrivalled portfolio. The key markets in which this strategy

    was being actively pursued were the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom,

    France, the Netherlands and Belgium.

    Growth Markets

    Based on the belief that the world’'s beer markets would undergo further

    consolidation, Interbrew’'s market strategy was to build significant positions in

    markets that had long-term volume growth potential. This goal led to a clear focus

    on Central and Eastern Europe and Asia, South Korea and China in particular. In

    China, for example, Interbrew had just completed an acquisition of a second

    brewery in Nanjing. The Yali brand was thereby added to the corporate portfolio

    and, together with its Jingling brand, Interbrew became the market leader in

    Nanjing, a city of six million people.

    In Korea, Interbrew entered into a 50:50 joint venture with the Doosan Chaebol to

    operate the Oriental Brewery, producing the OB Lager and Cafri pilsener brands.

    With this move, Interbrew took the number two position in the Korean beer market

    with a 36 per cent share and sales of 5.1 million hls. The venture with Doosan was

    followed in December 1999 by the purchase of the Jinro Coors brewery. This

    added 2.5 million hls and increased Interbrew’'s market share to 50 per cent of total

    Korean volume. Thus, the Interbrew portfolio in Korea consisted of two

    mainstream pilsener brands, OB Lager and Cass, the two local premium brands,

    Cafri and Red Rock, and Budweiser, an international premium brand.

    In Russia, Interbrew expanded its presence by taking a majority stake in the Rosar

    Brewery in Omsk, adding the BAG Bier and Sibirskaya Korona brands. Rosar

    was the leading brewer in Siberia with a 25 per cent regional market share, and

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    held the number four position in Russia. New initiatives were also undertaken in

    Central Europe with acquisitions of a brewery in Montenegro and the Pleven

    brewery in Bulgaria, as well as the introduction of Interbrew products into the

    Yugoslavian market. Finally, although Interbrew had just increased its already

    significant investment in Mexico’'s second largest brewer from 22 per cent to 30

    per cent, Latin America remained a region of great interest.

    Brand Strategy

    A central piece of Interbrew’'s traditional brand strategy had been to add to its

    portfolio of brands through acquisition of existing brewers, principally in growth

    markets. Since its goal was to have the number one or two brand in every market

    segment in which it operated, Interbrew concentrated on purchasing and

    developing strong local brands. As it moved into new territories, the company’'s

    first priority was to upgrade product quality and to improve the positioning of the

    acquired local core lager brands. In mature markets, it drew on the strength of the

    established brands such as Jupiler, Belgium’'s leading lager brand, Labatt Blue, the

    famous Canadian brand, and Dommelsch, an important brand in the Netherlands.

    In growth markets, Interbrew supported brands like Borsodi Sor in Hungary,

    Kamenitza in Bulgaria, Ozujsko in Croatia, Bergenbier in Romania, Jingling in

    China, and OB Lager in Korea. In addition, new products were launched such as

    Taller, a premium brand in the Ukraine, and Boomerang, an alternative malt-based

    drink in Canada.

    A second facet of the company’'s brand strategy was to identify certain brands,

    typically specialty products, and to develop them on a regional basis across a

    group of markets. At the forefront of this strategy were the Abbaye de Leffe and

    Hoegaarden brands and, to a lesser extent, Belle-Vue. In fact, both Hoegaarden

    and Leffe achieved a leading position as the number one white beer and abbey beer

    in France and Holland. The Loburg premium pilsener brand also strengthened its

    position when it was relaunched in France. Further, in Canada, Interbrew created a

    dedicated organization for specialty beers called the Oland Specialty Beer

    Company. In its first year of operation, the brands marketed by Oland increased

    its volumes by over 40 per cent. More specifically, sales of the Alexander Keith’'s

    brand doubled and the negative volume trend of the John Labatt Classic brand was

    reversed. The underlying message promoted by Oland was the richness, mystique

    and heritage of beer.

    To support the regional growth of specialty beers, Interbrew established a new

    type of café. The Belgian Beer Café, owned and run by independent operators,

    created an authentic Belgian atmosphere where customers sampled Interbrew’'s

    Belgian specialty beers. By 1999, Belgian Beer Cafés were open in the many of

    Interbrew’'s key markets, including top selling outlets in New York, Auckland,

    Zagreb and Budapest, to name a few. The business concept was that these cafés

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    were to serve as an ambassador of the Belgian beer culture in foreign countries.

    They were intended to serve as vehicles to showcase Interbrew’'s specialty brands,

    benefiting from the international appeal of European styles and fashions.

    Although these cafés represented strong marketing tools for brand positioning, the

    key factors that led to the success of this concept were tied very closely to the

    individual establishments and the personnel running them. The bar staff, for

    example, had to be trained to serve the beer in the right branded glass, at the right

    temperature, and with a nice foamy head. It was anticipated that the concept of the

    specialty café would be used to support the brand development efforts of

    Interbrew’'s Belgian beers in all of its important markets.

    The third facet of Interbrew’'s brand strategy was to identify a key corporate brand

    and to develop it as a global product. While the market segment for a global brand

    was currently relatively small, with the bulk of the beer demand still in local

    brands, the demand for international brands was expected to grow, as many

    consumers became increasingly attracted to the sophistication of premium and

    super-premium beers.


    Until 1997, Interbrew’'s brand development strategy for international markets was

    largely laissez faire. Brands were introduced to new markets through licensing,

    export and local production when opportunities were uncovered. Stella Artois,

    Interbrew’'s most broadly available and oldest brand, received an important new

    thrust when it was launched through local production in three of the company’'s

    subsidiaries in Central Europe in 1997. This approach was consistent with the

    company’'s overall goals of building a complete portfolio in high growth potential


    By 1998, however, the executive management committee perceived the need to

    identify a brand from its wide portfolio to systematically develop into the

    company’'s global brand. Although the market for global brands was still small,

    there were some growing successes (e.g., Heineken, Corona, Fosters and

    Budweiser) and Interbrew believed that there were several basic global trends that

    would improve the viability of this class of product over the next couple of

    decades. First, while many consumers were seeking more variety, others were

    seeking lower prices. It appeared that the number of affluent and poor consumer

    segments would increase at the expense of the middle income segments. The

    upshot of this socioeconomic trend was that eventually all markets would likely

    evolve in such a way that demand for both premium and economy-priced beers

    would increase, squeezing the mainstream beers in the middle. A second trend

    was the internationalization of the beer business. As consumers travelled around

    the world, consuming global media (e.g., CNN, Eurosport, MTV, international

    magazines, etc.), global media were expected to become more effective for

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    building brands. A global strategy could, therefore, lead to synergies in global

    advertising and sponsoring. In addition, the needs of consumers in many markets

    were expected to converge. As a result of these various factors, Interbrew believed

    that there would be an increasing interest in authentic, international brands in a

    growing number of countries. Interbrew had a wide portfolio of national brands

    that it could set on the international stage. The two most obvious candidates were

    Labatt Blue and Stella Artois.

    The Labatt range of brands included Labatt Blue, Labatt Blue Light and Labatt Ice.

    To date, however, the exposure of these brands outside of North America had been

    extremely limited and they were not yet budding global brands. Of the total Labatt

    Blue volume in 1998, 85 per cent was derived from the Canadian domestic and

    U.S. markets, with the balance sold in the United Kingdom. The Labatt brands

    had been introduced to both France and Belgium, and production had been

    licensed in Italy, but these volumes were minimal. The only real export growth

    market for Labatt Blue appeared to be the United States, where the brand’'s volume

    in 1998 was some 23 per cent higher than in 1995, behind only Corona and

    Heineken in the imported brand segment. The Labatt Ice brand was also sold in a

    limited number of markets and, after the appeal of this Labatt innovation had

    peaked, its total volume had declined by more than 25 per cent since 1996. Total

    Labatt Ice volume worldwide was just 450,000 hls in 1998, of which 43 per cent

    was sold in Canada, 33 per cent in the United States, and 21 per cent in the United



    The other potential brand that Interbrew could develop on a global scale was Stella

    Artois, a brand that could trace its roots back to 1366. The modern version of

    Stella Artois was launched in 1920 as a Christmas beer and had become a strong

    market leader in its home market of Belgium through the 1970s. By the 1990s,

    however, Stella’'s market position began to suffer from an image as a somewhat

    old-fashioned beer, and the brand began to experience persistent volume decline.

    Problems in the domestic market, however, appeared to be shared by a number of

    other prominent international brands. In fact, seven of the top 10 international

    brands had experienced declining sales in their home markets between 1995 and

    1999 (see Exhibit 3).

    Stella Artois had achieved great success in the United Kingdom through its

    licensee, Whitbread, where Stella Artois became the leading premium lager beer.

    Indeed, the United Kingdom was the largest market for Stella Artois, accounting

    for 49 per cent of total brand volume in 1998. Stella Artois volume in the U.K.

    market reached 2.8 million hls in 1998, a 7.6 per cent share of the lager market,

    and came close to 3.5 million hls in 1999, a 25 per cent increase over the previous

    year. By this time, over 32,000 outlets sold Stella Artois on draught.

    Page 12 9B00A019

    Apart from the United Kingdom, the key markets for Stella Artois were France and

    Belgium, which together accounted for a further 31 per cent of total brand volume

    (see Exhibit 4). With these three markets accounting for 81 per cent of total Stella

    Artois volume in 1999, few other areas represented a significant volume base (see

    Exhibit 5). Beyond the top three markets, the largest market for Stella Artois was

    Italy, where the brand was produced under license by Heineken. Stella Artois

    volume in Italy had, however, declined slightly to 166,000 hls in 1998. Licensing

    agreements were also in place in Sweden and Australia, but volume was small.

    Stella Artois was also produced in Interbrew’'s own breweries in Hungary, Croatia

    and Romania, with very pleasing 1998 volumes of 84,000 hls, 120,000 hls, and

    60,000 hls, respectively. After only three years, the market share of Stella Artois

    in Croatia, for example, had reached four per cent —- a significant result, given that

    the brand was a premium-priced product. In all Central European markets, Stella

    Artois was priced at a premium; in Hungary, however, that premium was lower

    than in Croatia and Romania where, on an index comparing Stella’'s price to that of

    core lagers, the indices by country were 140, 260 and 175 respectively.

    Promising first results were also attained in Australia and New Zealand.

    Particularly in New Zealand, through a “"seeding”" approach, Interbrew and their

    local partner, Lion Nathan, had realized great success in the Belgian Beer Café in

    Auckland where the brands were showcased. After only two years of support,

    Stella Artois volume was up to 20,000 hls, and growing at 70 per cent annually,

    out of a total premium segment of 400,000 hls. Interbrew’'s market development

    plan limited distribution to top outlets in key metropolitan centres and priced Stella

    Artois significantly above competitors (e.g., 10 per cent over Heineken and 20 per

    cent over Steinlager, the leading domestic premium lager brand).

    The evolution of the brand looked very positive as world volumes for Stella Artois

    continued to grow. In fact, Stella Artois volume had increased from 3.4 million

    hls in 1992 to a total of 6.7 million hls in 1999, a rise of 97 per cent. Ironically,

    the only market where the brand continued its steady decline was in its home base

    of Belgium. Analysts suggested a variety of reasons to explain this anomaly,

    including inconsistent sales and marketing support, particularly as the organization

    began to favor the rising Jupiler brand.

    Overall, given Interbrew’'s large number of local brands, especially those in

    Mexico with very high volumes, total Stella Artois volume accounted for only 10

    per cent of total Interbrew volume in 1999 (14 per cent if Femsa volumes are

    excluded). Interbrew’'s strategy of nurturing a wide portfolio of strong brands was

    very different as compared to some of its major competitors. For example,

    Anheuser-Busch, the world’'s largest brewer, focused its international strategy

    almost exclusively on the development of the Budweiser brand. Similarly,

    Heineken sought to centre its international business on the Heineken brand and, to

    a lesser extent, on Amstel. While the strategies of Anheuser-Busch and Heineken

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