Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO Brito poses with a Stella

AB InBev CEO Brito to Step Down, North America Chief to Step in

By Philip Blenkinsop

The brewer of Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois lagers said its board had unanimously elected Doukeris, the former head of sales, to succeed fellow Brazilian Brito, the architect of AB InBev’s global expansion, from July 1.

Chairman Martin Barrington said in a statement that Doukeris’ expertise in brands, consumers and innovation meant he was ideally suited for the company’s next phase.

That phase could be more focused on boosting sales of over 500 brands than on acquisitions in an already concentrated brewing market.

Brito arrived when the brewer was called InBev, the result of a 2004 merger between Belgium’s Interbrew and Brazil’s AmBev, which he headed.

During his tenure, the company took over Anheuser-Busch in 2008, added Mexico’s Grupo Modelo and in 2016 spent over $100 billion on SABMiller, then the world’s second largest brewer.

The acquisition brought more Latin American markets and saw it enter Africa for the first time.

However, the purchase also saw AB InBev‘s net debt jump to $82.7 billion as of the end of 2020, some 4.8 times EBITDA and well above an “optimal” level of two.

Its share are now less than half their late 2015 peak, with craft beer eating into its U.S. sales and difficulties in Brazil and South Africa.

STRONG REBOUND AT START OF 2021

The company separately reported first-quarter earnings ahead of expectations, even with lockdowns closing hospitality in much of Europe and a one-month alcohol sales ban in South Africa.

Sales of beer surged 64% in Asia-Pacific, a year on from the initial coronavirus lockdown in China, a major AB InBev market.

They rose by more than 10% in Latin America, outperforming industry growth in two of its top markets, Brazil and Mexico. In Europe, sales of its own beers were flat.

Core profit (EBITDA) rose 14.2% on a like-for-like basis and removing the impact of currency translation to $4.27 billion, beating the 6.6% average forecast in a company-compiled poll.

This figure should increase by between 8% and 12% in 2021, with revenue growth greater than that, based on higher beer sales, price hikes and a shift in consumer taste to premium brands, AB InBev said.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Jason Neely)