KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's a marketing effort designed to attract
the sophisticated beer drinker. Yes, even though most recent mass
efforts to sell beer have centered on sex, dogs, mountains or frogs.
But thanks to the beer industry's lack of growth over the last
couple of years, Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. has picked up the
mantra of microbrewers nationwide: "Fresh beer tastes better." A
few months ago the St. Louis brewer started putting its beer's birth
date on each container. This "freshness dating" strategy advises the
consumer to drink the beer within a certain number of days of the
"born on" date (110 days for Budweiser and Bud Light).
To convey the concept to the public, the St. Louis company
introduced a new advertising pitchman -- a Budweiser delivery guy
named Gus who strives to protect the consumer from skunky-tasting
Given the gangly new pitchman -- part Satch of Bowery Boys and
part bartender Woody Boyd of Cheers -- it would be easy to call
Anheuser-Busch's latest tactic a gimmick.
But industry observers see it as a gambit that could give the huge
beer maker even more leverage in its push to grab a 50-percent share
of the market by the turn of the century.
"Because of the stagnant market, other breweries are struggling,"
said Tony Vento, a beer industry analyst with Edward Jones in St.
Louis. "I think Anheuser-Busch is just trying to turn up the heat on
the competition as far as getting the message out that they have the
best quality beer and the freshest."
Contrary to some beer drinkers' taste buds, freshness is important
when it comes to a beer's taste. Although other factors such as
exposure to extreme temperatures or light can turn a beer stale, the
amount of time beer sits on a shelf waiting for a buyer concerns all
"It's always been a goal of the breweries to have fresh beer,"
said Ed Moody, also known as "Gomer," owner of several area liquor
stores. "The thing that really hurts beer is age."
Certainly Anheuser-Busch doesn't refer to the strategy as a
gimmick. A company spokesman said the beer maker started working on
the concept a couple of years ago to address a number of concerns,
including the seemingly endless line of new froths filling up space
in liquor stores.
Anheuser-Busch's fight with other breweries, particularly Samuel
Adams maker Boston Beer Co., over honesty in packaging also played a
role. Boston Beer and other breweries suggest on their labels that
their beer is made in small breweries. The fact is that the
companies contract with larger breweries to make the beer and are
misleading the public, Anheuser-Busch complains.
"I think the impetus was a very crowded marketplace, a stagnant
beer industry and a lot of pretenders saying that they were
that they weren't," said Bob Lachky, group vice president for the
company's Budweiser brands. "When that starts to happen, you've got
to defend your market share and raise a little awareness. …