Written by John W. Miller for the Wall Street Journal
The 2011 Anheuser Busch-InBev shareholders meeting on Tuesday was never going to generate news. “We’ll have a press conference but you won’t learn anything,” a spokeswoman said.
First-quarter results are due to be presented on May 4, so the company didn’t want to jump the gun, although the so-called “quiet period” before earnings is a cultural choice, not the law.
What the company did want to talk about was its new alcohol-free drink, the Hoegaarden 0.0. The Real Time Brussels team agreed to taste-test a six-pack, as it did for the Jupiler Force.
The H0, of course, is named after the classic wheat Hoegaarden that says Belgian summer like a day at the beach in Ostende or reading a book in a Brussels park.
Under CEO Carlos Brito, AB-Inbev invests considerably in flashy marketing. And the Hoegaarden 0.0 is stylish, with design centered around a Gothic rendition of “0.0”, that looks like two ghost eyes, printed on a light yellow can with white wheat germs.
The verdict on taste was mixed. Your correspondent found the drink akin to a watered-down lemon Fanta. OK — refreshing even — if you know what you’re getting.
“It’s lovely, like a Hoegaarden shandy,” said a female colleague, referring to a beer and soft drink cocktail.
Male colleagues’s reviews were more bitter. “Like sweet dish soap,” said one.
In the end, Mr. Brito said in brief remarks at the press conference, the point of a big beer company is to offer brands for all tastes, or, as he put it, “you want a portfolio [of drinks] that allows consumers to stay within your franchise.”
Anheuser hopes its range of alcohol-free drinks will help its campaign for responsible drinking, and balance out sluggish beer sales in Europe. “Some beverages, like water, and soft drinks,” are doing better than beer, Mr. Brito said.