Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO on return to pre-Covid consuming routines

Outgoing Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Carlos Brito told CNBC on Friday that people have been eager to return to pre-pandemic drinking routines as coronavirus vaccinations picked up across the U.S. and bars and restaurants faced fewer restrictions.

“Once vaccines were being rolled out, we saw some states ahead of others and we saw how consumers were reacting to this new normal,” Brito told “Squawk Box.”  “And we saw that a lot of the new normal was just like the old normal in that people were dying to go back to old habits.”

Brito — who steps down July 1 after 15 years leading the world’s largest beer brewer — said AB InBev adjusted its supply chain to produce a more “normal balance” of bottles and draft beer, anticipating that home consumption would take a less prominent role.

The home had became the “hub” for living, entertainment and working all at once during the pandemic, Brito noted, commending the company for how it responded to that change.

“Our guys in supply chain, sales had to be very agile, very flexible,” Brito said. “There was a big shift in dislocation among channels, packaging, brands because consumers couldn’t buy in pubs and restaurants so they had to resort to grocery stores, and they found their way to loved products.”

AB InBev shares are now up about 50% in the past 12 months and more than 7% year to date.

The Bud Light brewer also has seen the emergence of what Brito dubbed a “fourth category” of drinks that covers the intersection of wine, beer and cocktail beverages. Ready-to-drink cocktails is the fastest-growing alcohol category, with beverage companies and industry experts predicting further growth.

“It’s an amazing category. It’s growing. It goes to specific consumer needs of lower calories, lower carbs, gluten free, in many instances, more co-ed,” Brito said. “It’s something that’s great for us because it’s very profitable.”

Beer consumption has been declining in recent years as consumers either opt for substitutes such as hard seltzer and canned cocktails or choose to drink less or not at all. AB InBev has added new products, such as Bud Light Seltzer, to adapt to changing tastes.

Michel Doukeris, who serves as the head of the company’s North American business, will take the reins from Brito. During Brito’s leadership, he led the acquisitions of Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller, which revolutionized the company’s global scale and cut costs along the way.

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