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Drinking at home, buying online set to linger for beer - AB InBev CEO

Philip Blenkinsop
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Brito poses with a Stella Artois beer after a news conference in Leuven

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Beer drinkers are likely to retain pandemic habits of ordering online to drink at home even as coronavirus restrictions ease, the chief executive of the world's largest brewer said on Thursday.

The switch in consumption was nowhere more apparent that in Brazil, where the firm's Ze Delivery platform took 27 million orders last year, up from 1.5 million in 2019.

Carlos Brito, the chief executive of Anheuser-Busch InBev, acknowledged many consumers were desperate to return to bars, sports events and festivals, but believed consumption would not be exactly the same as before.

"The trend, as we're seeing in China, is that consumers will go back to a lot of the old habits, but I think the home will remain more of a hub than it was before," he told Reuters in an interview.

"The convenience of having things digitally ordered to your home will to a large part remain," he said.

The maker of Budweiser, Stella Artois and Corona ended 2020 with what Brito described as "strong momentum". Profit slipped in the fourth quarter, but the company sold 1.8% more beer. Growth was sharpest in Brazil, its second largest market.

Brito said AB InBev's business had suffered most from severe lockdowns, such as an enforced closure of its business in Mexico, alcohol bans in South Africa and lockdowns mandating people to stay at home, but was able to grow at times of easing.

Still, it and other brewers need pubs and restaurants to reopen to restore margins as the revenue generated from them is in many countries higher than for beer sold in stores and more single-use cans raise costs.

"Cans are more expensive and, because everyone is going to cans, all over the world everybody is short of cans so you are paying more for cans," Brito said.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)