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Anheuser-Busch to Distribute InBev's Imported Brands in U.S.

Deal Includes Promotional Responsibility for Stella, Bass Ale, Other Brews

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Anheuser-Busch Cos. has cut a deal with InBev USA to distribute its stable of imported beer brands, including Bass Pale Ale, Beck's and Stella Artois, within the U.S.
Beck's, Stella and Bass are among the imported InBev brands A-B will distribute and promote domestically.
Beck's, Stella and Bass are among the imported InBev brands A-B will distribute and promote domestically.

The deal gives A-B and its network of distributors access to an import portfolio that is the world's largest by volume at a time when import sales are badly outpacing domestic macrobrews. And Stella Artois -- which InBev executives this summer said was up 65% during the first half of 2006 -- is among the hottest brands in the space. Beck's, on the other hand, has generally lagged the category.

Rumored since the summer
According to Beer Business Daily, InBev USA President Doug Corbett made the announcement to employees this afternoon. Speculation about an A-B/InBev partnership was running high over the summer, but Mr. Corbett shot it down then. "We firmly believe that our current platform, including our people, our import brands and our wholesaler distribution system, is the best option for future growth," Mr. Corbett wrote in July to InBev distributors following a spate of media reports on the rumored talks.

But in a statement today, InBev CEO Carlos Brito said Anheuser-Busch's "world-class" distribution system was simply too good to pass up.

Promotional responsibility
The deal gives Anheuser-Busch U.S. promotional responsibility for the InBev brands, although it was not immediately clear what that means for their advertising agency relationships. Beck's U.S. creative advertising is at Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, Chicago; Stella Artois is handled by Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Worldwide; and Bass is at Interpublic's McCann Erickson, New York.

"This agreement gives us highly valued brands that appeal to beer drinkers looking for sophisticated imports in their beer choices," said August A. Busch IV, president-CEO of A-B. "We live in a world with diverse cultures and lifestyles, and his provides additional variety for our consumers. This is consistent with our stated strategy of enhancing our participation in the U.S. high-end beer segment."

The deal does not include InBev's Canadian brands, Labatt and Brahma, which will continue to be run out of InBev USA's Buffalo, N.Y., headquarters.
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