Anheuser-Busch InBev has laid off 380 employees from its High End division, which oversees craft brewery acquisitions and super-premium imports.
As first reported by BeerStreetJournal.com, the layoffs have wiped out at least 90% of The High End’s nationwide sales force but do not include employees who report directly to any of the 10 breweries within its portfolio. A spokesperson for the company says that The High End still employs thousands and that the cuts affect only 2% of AB InBev’s 18,000 North American workers.
In his article, BeerStreetJournal.com owner Reid Ramsay writes, “Per Mike Seabaugh, High End Sales Rep, AB’s explanation centered around brewery acquisitions. ‘Basically, they’ve bought quite a few breweries and with those purchases came a bunch of employees. They don’t have room for us anymore.’”
The report states that in meetings and phone calls held with employees all morning and afternoon, Vice President of Sales for AB InBev North America Alex Medicis explained that the biggest beermaker in the world is “rethinking the business model surrounding the High End, centering more on efficiency.” The High End sales force essentially proved redundant.
By coincidence, I sat for an exclusive hour-long interview with High End president Felipe Szpigel Wednesday, who told me that the company would no longer focus on acquisitions and would instead pivot to growing its ground-up model. He pointed to the new Vesa Sur brewpub in Miami, which is a first-of-its-kind partnership between AB InBev-owned 10 Barrel Brewing in Bend, OR, and Colombia’s Bogota Beer Company, as an example.
“Our plate’s full,” he said. “We have 10 amazing craft partners. Our focus is going to be organic.”
Perhaps to foreshadow Thursday’s events, which hadn’t been announced internally when we spoke at the company’s Manhattan headquarters, Szpigel stressed the relative autonomy and local engagement of his craft breweries, leading one to speculate (in hindsight) that he may have believed his corporately branded salesforce could be perceived as more removed from consumers than the brewery reps themselves. He noted that AB InBev’s craft brewing managers retain localized oversight of their product, even if it’s brewed in various corporate facilities across America, and stressed that when he shops for breweries, strong community ties are a must.
“There’s a tone of voice for each brand,” he said.
Ab InBev formed The High End in 2014 to manage its growing roster of craft brewery acquisitions and promoted Szpigel to president from his position as a global vice president of marketing for the parent corporation.
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