Michel Doukeris will be the CEO of Anheuser-Busch and Zone President North America as of January 1, the company announced Monday. Doukeris will replace João Castro Neves, who the company said will step down from the role to pursue other opportunities.
Doukeris, a Brazilian citizen, joined the company in 1996 and worked in several sales positions before becoming president of AB InBev China and then Zone President Asia Pacific. He is currently AB InBev's chief sales officer.
“The U.S. is our most important market and we recognize the need to continue to focus on driving topline growth across our portfolio,” said Carlos Brito, CEO of AB InBev. “Michel has extensive experience delivering results for our business worldwide, including helping to grow Budweiser globally and launching The High End business strategy, which now represents [$5 billion] of sales."
Anheuser-Busch's incoming CEO is a company insider with extensive sales experience. He will need to focus on driving growth in the North American market, where the company has lost market share over the past few years and where sales continue to be sluggish — particularly for its Budweiser and Bud Light brands.
According to Statista, Bud Light has the highest market share of any domestic beer, representing about 18.4% of sales. However, sales remained challenged as beer drinkers moved to craft brews and cheaper lagers. During the quarter ended Sept. 30, AB InBev estimated Bud Light lost nearly a percentage point in market share, while Budweiser slipped just under half of a percent.
The beer maker, which came together last year following mega-merger between SAB Miller and Anheuser-Busch InBev, said the integration remains on track. Cost savings from the deal could reach at least $3.2 billion compared with the company's earlier $2.8 billion estimate, its latest earnings report said.
AB InBev has been attempting to regain market share, which has slipped from 19% to 16% since 2010 — a challenge facing the big breweries as consumers flock to other alcohol varieties or craft beers with interesting flavors and clever names. The beer giant reported strong profits following its acquisition of SABMiller last year, but overall beer consumption is down while sales of wine and spirit sales are growing.
Doukeris has his work cut out for him, but he has the right kind of experience that the beer giant needs to improve U.S. business. Brito told The Wall Street Journal, “Now, we’re going to have a more commercially minded person at the head of the business.” Doukeris has a master's degree in marketing from a top Brazilian university and has completed post-graduate marketing programs at the Kellogg School of Management and Wharton Business School.
And while it may take hard work to turn around AB InBev's brands in the U.S., Doukeris has done similar work for the company before. In 2015, while Doukeris was head of the brewery's Asia-Pacific division, sales of beer in Vietnam outpaced the country's GDP.
“Asia Pacific is now the third largest zone of AB InBev in terms of volume, and Vietnam is considered the next turning point for us in Southeast Asia,” Doukeris said at an opening ceremony at a Ho Chi Minh City brewery, according to Bloomberg.
While the U.S. is not Vietnam, Doukeris has shown that he can grow sales in a difficult market. And nowadays, it does not get more difficult than the quickly changing U.S. He told The Wall Street Journal that he will be investing more in data and analytics to do more regional and targeted marketing. Beer drinkers can likely expect to see more of the kinds of promotions that relabeled Budweiser "America" for part of the past two summers, as well as its bottles that used the label to honor the states where the beer was made.
Doukeris is also likely to be looking for more ways to diversify the company's products and its portfolio by taking advantage of M&A opportunities as they arise — although these kinds of expansions are tricky for such a major industry player that cannot take too much of the general market. He will also need to keep refreshing the North American market share with innovative beers that capture consumer interest, are on-trend and can successfully compete with creative craft brewers.