Top Marketing Exec Keith Levy Leaves Anheuser-Busch

Departure Comes at End of Another Tough Year for Brewer

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CHICAGO ( -- Keith Levy, Anheuser-Busch's VP-marketing, is leaving the brewer, which has struggled to grow its brands during the economic downturn.

Keith Levy
Keith Levy
Mr. Levy, who has worked for A-B since 1987, will be replaced temporarily by Frank Abenante, parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev's global VP-brands and insights, A-B President Dave Peacock said in a statement.

"He will be responsible for driving strategy, operational marketing plans and brand performance until a permanent vice president of marketing for Anheuser-Busch is in place," Mr. Peacock said.

Mr. Levy's departure is "not a surprise in so much that Bud Light had another down year," said Harry Schuhmacher, editor of Beer Business Daily. "So I would think that priority No. 1 is to stabilize Bud Light. Sometimes it's best to change horses, even midstream, to get the brand rolling again."

Shipments of Bud Light -- the nation's top-selling beer brand by far -- are expected to decline for 2010 once the final numbers are calculated. Dollar sales at the retail level dropped 1.01% in the year ending Nov. 28, according to SymphonyIRI, which excludes liquor stores and Walmart. Budweiser, which A-B is trying to reposition as a brand for younger drinkers, had an even steeper decline, with sales falling 6.47%.

Other brewers are struggling as well, battling headwinds including stubbornly high jobless rates that have translated into fewer purchases by blue-collar drinkers. Still, that's no excuse for Belgium-based A-B InBev, a notoriously numbers-driven company, observers said.

"ABI is such a performance-based culture that it doesn't matter what the macro winds are doing -- you still got to post the numbers," Mr. Schuhmacher said.

Mr. Levy's recent moves include hiring independent agency Anomaly, whose new "Grab Some Buds" TV ads coincided with the brewer's National Happy Hour initiative, which involved A-B handing out free samples at bars and restaurants.

Most of the Bud Light work has been handled by Omnicom Group's DDB.

Bud Light trends have improved some as of late, but wholesalers think the brewer can do more to sell all of its brands, said one expert.

"There's still not a lot of enthusiasm in A-B's distribution network for A-B's marketing programs," said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights.

The naming of Mr. Abenante, who joined A-B InBev in 2007, could signal that the brewer might seek a permanent replacement from within its global operation. But Mr. Schuhmacher noted that the U.S. beer industry "has a special culture and so ... I just as easily see them doing an exhaustive search ... among U.S. companies" for the permanent replacement.

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