ZX Ventures - AB In Bev
Founded in 2015 and based in NYC, ZX Ventures is the global growth and innovation group of Anheuser-Busch InBev. The venture mandate is to develop new products and businesses that address commercial and consumer needs, including end-to-end supply chain transparency, traceability, and efficiency in emerging markets.
A few years ago, Carlos Brito, CEO of AB InBev, was faced with a fundamental issue when asked a big question: "What would the world miss if the company didn’t exist? " This brought the leadership team to brainstorm to find a very clear reason why the world would not be a great place if the group did not exist. Like other companies, AB InBev had not focused enough on innovation, despite talking about it and getting better at it. “The problem with innovation is that innovation takes time, it requires effort, it doesn’t pay back overnight. So, whenever you let some of the innovation efforts compete with a core business, you know innovation in the long term is also second priority” mentioned Petro Earp.
In 2015, it made a big bet on innovation, hiring a bunch of people for ZX Ventures and housing it in a different building with its own separate business functions like HR and finance. Four years on, its new brands have collectively made $1 billion in sales.
AB InBev has grown through aggressive acquisitions, buying SABMiller in 2016 in a deal worth $100 billion, and has been working to reduce the debt pile that contributed to it. Last year, it agreed to sell its Australian operations to Japan’s Asahi for about $11.3 billion in enterprise value, after it called off an initial public offering (IPO) of its Asia-Pacific unit.
ZX Ventures' unparalleled access to Anheuser-Busch InBev’s research, technology and distribution networks allows them to have a deep understanding of products and what the consumer wants, as well as to anticipate and meet what their needs will be in the future.
The Venture has 3 pillars:
- Build: The Zxlerator program builds new businesses that address unmet consumer and commercial needs. This is an annual program that pairs AB InBev employees from around the world with undergraduate and MBA interns to tackle big problems. They test, validate and pitch ideas to internal investors for funding for their projects.
- Invest: seeding, launching, and scaling new products that deliver exceptional consumer experiences and bring (more) people together.
They invest in companies across verticals and stages around the world, this includes Craft beer companies (breweries that combine premium ingredients, sustainable production methods, and deep ties to their local communities in order to create the future of beer), technologies, retail locations. Usually it is through acquisitions: either directly or through local subsidiaries (example: bought four breweries in Mexico through its local subsidiary Grupo Modelo).
- Grow through partnering with founders, best-in-class business builders and operators to help them grow their businesses.
The paradox of selling to a major corporation is that the marketing strategy often reinforces the integrity of local brands. Example with the marketing approach for Colombia’s beer brands, which is two-pronged: hyper-local and hyper-national. “Those companies and beer owners are really good at understanding how much these brands are national icons and respecting that and paying credence to it. They’re very sensitive to the fact that beer brands like airplane brands are flagship brands for a nation”