Almost all of the world’s mega-brewers have weaseled their way into the legal cannabis space, yet Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest of them all, has been somewhat aloof when it comes to saying whether the company is considering a similar move.
Earlier this year, CEO Carlos Brito told Just Drinks that while cannabis was something the company was “trying to learn more about,” he didn’t feel any sort of game plan was necessary.
But there is evidence that Anheuser-Busch is interested in selling THC-infused products. In fact, it is is investing in the essential infrastructure for such an endeavor.
Operations recently appointed a Chief Non-Alcohol Beverages Officer — a new position within the company’s hierarchy — in an effort to expand its non-alcoholic beverages division. The brewer said last month that this move was part of its mission to target younger consumers who do not drink alcohol or enjoy the taste of beer. The company hopes this line of sober offerings will account for 20 percent of it overall sales by 2025.
Incidentally, all of the cannabis-infused beverages currently under development by Anheuser-Busch competitors (Constellation Brands and Molson Coors) are of the non-alcoholic variety. These companies plan to market stoner sips to both lifelong cannabis users and newcomers interested in exploring legal marijuana through a more socially accepted means. After all, smoking weed is a dying trend, according to a report from Deloitte.
This shift away from “smoking grass,” which will start to take full effect next year when Canada’s legal pot market finally allows edibles and drinkables to be sold, is going to be worth a fortune for all of the companies involved.
Some of the latest data shows that THC-infused beverages could be worth in upwards of $15 billion in the United States if the federal government would legalize nationwide. Other reports show that the introduction of cannabis drinks to the Canadian market could drive annual sales from $5 billion to somewhere in upwards of $22 billion.
So, what could be keeping Anheuser-Busch out of the game? Well, we’re not sure they’re not already playing to some degree.
A recent report from the Globe and Mail indicates that companies like Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola and Diageo PLC — maker of Crown Royal whisky and Guinness beer — have all been meeting with Canadian cannabis producers over the past few months to discuss bringing their respective cannabis beverages to market.
However, when Forbes asked the beer giant to elaborate on this claim, all Anheuser-Busch VP of Communications Gemma Hart was willing to say is that “we are closely following the legalization trends in the cannabis industry.”
“There are still many unknowns regarding the long-term commercial and societal impacts of marijuana legalization,” she added. “It is our hope that the public health community and policy makers are examining this issue carefully so that marijuana is regulated appropriately where it’s legal.”
What we do know is the cannabis trade is the largest growing business sector in North America. Sure, Anheuser-Busch has Budweiser, conceivably the most popular domestic beer brand on the planet, but beer sales have been sliding into the proverbial crapper for the past five years. Generation Z and even Millennials are simply no longer interested in drinking alcohol like the generations that came before them. Some data even shows that the majority of these demographics prefer marijuana to alcohol.
Even Wall Street analysts, like Cowen’s Vivien Azer say Big Brewers are worried about losing market share to cannabis firms and they also do not want to miss out on the next big thing.
So, will Anheuser-Busch eventually join in the fun? Business experts say alcohol-marijuana mergers are good for everyone involved. So, it’s likely just a matter of time before Bud gets wiser.