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. â€œWeâ€™ll have a press conference but you wonâ€™t learn anything,â€ a spokeswoman said.
First-quarter results are due to be presented on May 4, so the company didnâ€™t want to jump the gun, although the so-called â€œquiet periodâ€ 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 â€œ0.0â€, 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 â€” refreshing even â€” if you know what youâ€™re getting.
â€œItâ€™s lovely, like a Hoegaarden shandy,â€ said a female colleague, referring to a beer and soft drink cocktail.
Male colleaguesâ€™s reviews were more bitter. â€œLike sweet dish soap,â€ 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, â€œyou want a portfolio [of drinks] that allows consumers to stay within your franchise.â€
Anheuser hopes its range of alcohol-free drinks will help its campaign for responsible drinking, and balance out sluggish beer sales in Europe. â€œSome beverages, like water, and soft drinks,â€ are doing better than beer, Mr. Brito said.