Anheuser-Busch Uses Freshness Dating to Improve Flat Beer Sales
Joe Gose Kansas City Star, THE JOURNAL RECORD
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 beer. 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 beer companies. "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 something 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. …