- AB InBev appointed Brendan Whitworth as president of its North America operations and CEO of Anheuser-Busch starting July 1, the company said in a statement.
- Whitworth currently is the company’s U.S. chief sales officer and he has held various commercial leadership positions in the U.S. for the last 8 years. He succeeds Michel Doukeris, who is transitioning to the role of global CEO of AB InBev, at the beginning of next month.
- Whitworth's appointment to the top post in North America comes as AB InBev has moved aggressively into premium offerings and hard seltzers as consumers look for other alcohol options beyond beer.
As AB InBev confronts an ever-changing beverage landscape, the maker of Budweiser, Michelob Ultra and Devils Backbone is turning the reins to a pair of insiders who are familiar with its inner workings but cognizant of the fact that it can't afford to sit still.
In picking Doukeris for the top post, AB InBev chose a company veteran who was instrumental in shifting the brewer into premium beverages and the popular hard seltzer category. He also rapidly grew its craft business and oversaw a jump in sales for Michelob Ultra, its higher-priced, low-calorie beer that has been growing rapidly. Doukeris joined the beer maker in 1996.
Now, AB InBev is turning to another company insider in Whitworth. While he hasn't been with the beer maker as long, he also is intricately familiar with its operations, especially in the U.S., and should be able to seamlessly transition into his new role immediately. Prior to joining AB InBev, Whitworth held a series of leadership roles at PepsiCo's Frito-Lay unit, giving him additional insight into the CPG space and working with retailers, which undoubtedly has helped him in his current position.
In a release touting the new appointment, AB InBev noted Whitworth's leadership skills, strong customer relationships and assistance in improving the company's financial results and momentum for some of its products. He played a role in growing Michelob Ultra, captured more than $1 billion in sales of products beyond beer, strengthened relationships with wholesalers and retail business partners, and lead the implementation of Anheuser-Busch’s e-commerce platforms — all areas that will become even more important going forward.
In taking over Anheuser-Busch, Whitworth will deal with many of the same issues that Doukeris faced during his tenure.
Americans — most notably younger consumers such as millennials and Gen Zers — are drinking less alcohol or skipping it altogether. And when they do imbibe, they're more likely to turn to spirits, wine, craft beers, Mexican imports, low- or no-alcohol brews and ready-to-drink products such as hard seltzer. Innovation is happening faster than ever and alcohol makers can't afford to wait, making the pick of a company insider all the more important.
The industry also is benefiting from the reopening of bars, sporting venues and restaurants as the U.S. rebounds from COVID-19. In addition to its product portfolio, Whitworth will need to work in tandem with Doukeris to monitor the outbreak as new variants emerge and assess how the last 16 months or so have changed consumer buying habits. While online purchases are a small slice of the overall alcohol category, more shoppers have turned to e-commerce channels like Drizly to purchase their beer, spirits and wine during the pandemic.
AB InBev recently posted upbeat first-quarter profit and sales that topped market forecasts. Revenue increased 17% to $12.29 billion, and net profit improved to $595 million compared to a loss of $2.25 billion in the same period in 2020. Revenue in North America, the largest region for AB InBev, rose more than 5%. The world’s largest brewer seems to be on firmer ground, but with the alcohol industry rapidly evolving, the pressure will be on Whitworth and Doukeris to keep it that way.