Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) is the world’s largest brewer and commands approximately 25% market share of global beer consumption. AB InBev employs over 150,000 people across the globe and has a portfolio of 200 brands (primarily beer). Despite its large workforce, well capitalized innovation group, and diverse portfolio of beers, AB InBev turned to the masses to help create a new beer.
Several years ago, AB-InBev noticed an increasing trend toward craft beers. As consumer tastes changed, AB-InBev knew it had to change its offering. AB-InBev was faced with a decision: acquire a smaller, established craft brewery or develop its own craft beer. In the past, AB-InBev had grown through acquisition, but this time it made a different decision.
Leveraging and Incenting the Crowd
AB-InBev combined a competition between brewmasters with consumer-tastings to develop a new craft beer. The project had over 25,000 participants and it resulted in the creation of the golden-amber lager “Black Crown.” According to AB-InBev’s CMO, the company was initially concerned about the level of participation the project would create. Why would brewmasters create a beer for a different brewery, without pay? Would consumers be willing to try untested beers with unknown tastes?
Their concerns, however, were quickly alleviated by the overwhelming response. Brewmasters and consumers flocked to the various locations to provide recipes, suggestions, and feedback. Ultimately, “being part of developing a new product” for a company like AB-InBev was all the incentive individuals needed to participate. Some brewmasters suggested being able to tell their customers that they helped create an AB-InBev product was the reason they participated. Others noted a sense of pride they got and were honored that AB-InBev even asked for their help.
Creating and Capturing Value
For AB-InBev, the primary benefits were two-fold: 1) it created a new “craft” beer to capture value from the growing demand in that category, and 2) it allowed the company to show the broader beer community that they still cared about and listened to consumers – an image issue they had been struggling with for some time. The action of including others helped boost AB-InBev’s reputation amongst many of its consumers…even those who did not actually participate in the competition.
Outside of creating a new “craft” beer, the value AB-InBev created for its customers is less apparent. Some would argue that the new beer alone is enough value add; however if the beer ended up being a failure, then this experiment would likely have created limited value for the broader beer community.
Results and Potential for Future Crowd Sourcing Initiatives
The results were mixed. Black Crown was less of a success then AB-InBev hoped for. While the beer itself got positive reviews, competition from other craft breweries significantly increased since this time. Nevertheless, the crowdsourcing initiative did provide value to the company as its reputation improved.
AB-InBev has also leveraged the crowdsourcing model in other ways, such as its new video-production company that uses over 35,000 videographers from around the world. Other food and beverage companies, too, have launched similar crowd-sourced product development campaigns, including: Lays, Ben and Jerry’s, and Mountain Dew. It will be interesting to see if AB-InBev turns to this model again for future product development.