Photo: Vice President of Technology and Digital Transformation for the AB InBev Middle Americas brewery, Pedro Garavito Credits: Courtesy of the interviewee.
By Fernanda Morocho Sarchi
Anheuser-Busch InBev, better known as AB InBev, is one of the largest beer brewers in the world. Since its founding, they have been committed to promoting platforms and experiences that foster the unity and development of communities and the entire value chain. The multinational, which owns global brands such as Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois, is focused on strengthening digital transformation in order to continue fulfilling its mission.
AB InBev's Vice President of Technology and Digital Transformation in Central America and the Caribbean (Middle Americas Zone), Pedro Garavito, acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic was an opportunity to push the company to develop digital initiatives and think about technology in a different way. To this end, the company has relied on B2B (business-to-business) and direct-to-consumer platforms to expand its service offerings and connect with customers and consumers in a more personalized way.
Looking ahead, he believes it is necessary for the company to bet on the application of new technologies, such as metaverse and blockchain, to continue growing in the food and beverage industry.
For the brewing industry, it is essential to have a clear understanding of the trends and needs of both customers and consumers. What is the basis of your digital transformation and data capture strategy to understand their expectations?
On the customer side, we have managed to digitize 70% of our orders with a B2B platform we implemented in 2020, BEES. This has allowed us to better understand their needs and profiles so that we can offer a tailored portfolio.
On the consumer side, we launched platforms with different dynamics to find out more about their opinions and preferences, and therefore know what is most relevant to them.
Combining customer and consumer research with data analytics is an increasingly common practice. How do you conduct this type of cross-selling research at AB InBev?
If we talk about our shopkeepers [store owners], who account for more than 60% of our sales in the area from Mexico to Peru, where convenience stores are very important, we rely on customer transaction data that is digitized.
Using them, we seek to create audiences to promote initiatives relevant to the health of stores and, in some cases, to match them with consumers, bringing foot traffic to the stores. We are learning to do this more effectively.
Photo: The multinational, which owns global brands such as Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois, is one of the largest brewers in the world. Credits: AB InBev.
What benefits do customers and consumers gain from such data collection and interpretation?
Above all, improving the experience of interactions with customers and consumers. It is growing significantly in our countries, and we want to be present in the different consumption opportunities: at home, outside the home, on trips, at meals, in restaurants. The goal is to be able to listen to the public and adapt accordingly.
What role does customer and consumer feedback play in the development of new businesses in the retail industry in Central and South America?
With the pandemic, digital commerce accelerated a lot; this is currently one of our strongest initiatives. We developed a delivery service [fast and special shipping service] in partnership with the shopkeepers: we map where they are, what their delivery radius is, and we track them.
"We developed a delivery service in partnership with the shopkeepers: we map where they are, what their delivery radius is, and we track them."
To do this, we built a robust big data and analytics teams to understand the vast amount of data we have and act more clearly on it.
Photo: The B2B platform, BEES, is transforming the traditional sales model and puts customers and consumers at the center. Credits: AB InBev.
In fact, the COVID-19 crisis has really driven the digital transformation in all industries, including the food and beverage industry. What other technology tools have you developed to address this new reality?
The biggest transformation we have experienced in the last two years has been the digitization of sales through BEES. This platform had the risk of implementation in channels and with people who were not 100% digital, and we were surprised by the uptake rates: it showed that for them it was a necessity. In this way, we also proved that technology can be at the service of social inclusion.
"Now customers are empowered with the B2B platform."
Until then, our sales system was store-to-store once or twice a week: the salesperson arrived and had only a few minutes to show the portfolio without being able to offer all the promotions and innovations. Now, customers are empowered with the B2B platform. We have analyzed that they use it to make purchases outside working hours; this means that before we were interrupting their day-to-day life, it was a pain point for them that we had not identified. It's also a great source of data for us to understand their needs.
From its Silicon Valley-based Beer Garage technology innovation lab, AB InBev is exploring new emerging technologies such as blockchain. How can they help to improve service capabilities and bring internal value?
With blockchain, we have devised a plan to produce our products with local ingredients. For example, in Ecuador, tracking is being carried out through a start-up's blockchain platform. In a way, it has become a great tool for our production, and we see that it is working very well in this type of program.
Photo: Start-ups help build a more resilient, local supply chain at AB InBev's Beer Garage lab. Credits: AB InBev.
It's clear that the industry is transforming, but what challenges do you face in designing new experiences in your sector?
We have several challenges. One of them is to understand new trends such as gaming and the metaverse, which we see are becoming ever more relevant.
Something that we find very interesting for the industry is trying to understand how quantum computing is going to change our lives, for example, for vehicle routing capabilities or optimizing production plans. What is clear to us is that we want to be on the scene when these new trends gain traction with the public.
How do you envision the future of the industry? For example, how will a physical products company like AB InBev coexist with virtual environments such as the metaverse?
We are learning a lot in this respect. We have already done some very interesting projects with the Stella Artois brand. Virtual horses were sold in the metaverse to approach a new audience and it was a success. The brand partnered with the ZED RUN platform and offered exclusive NFTs to users: it designed its own horse breeds for the platform and a 3D racetrack. This partnership was a smart brand strategy not only to advertise, but also to position itself in the new digital entertainment experiences.
From this point of view, we believe that the events we do replicated or leveraged by the metaverse can be very interesting. We are aware that our brands can play an important role, and I think they have a lot to leverage, learn and contribute to the creation and potential of the metaverse. In short, we are understanding what our role is going to be in a more virtual future.
Published by OPINNO © 2022 MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW spanish edition.