Eight years after the InBev acquisition, Anheuser-Busch remains a force
Like many Missourians, Jim Bicklein’s favorite beer is Budweiser.
But for Bicklein, Budweiser is more than a beverage, it’s a career. Bicklein has worked for Anheuser-Busch since 1988. He’s spent parts of his career working in all 12 of Anheuser-Busch’s U.S. breweries.
Today, he’s the general manager of biggest one of them all—the St. Louis brewery. It’s a job that comes with a few perks, including serving on a brew masters taste panel.
Bicklein agreed to answer some questions for Missouri Business about the state of Anheuser-Busch in Missouri and what’s changed since the InBev acquisition.
Missouri Business: Anheuser-Busch has such a proud history in our state. From being founded here and then growing to become a global business. In what way does that history shape the company’s culture today?
Jim Bicklein: Our roots in Missouri go back to 1852, when we opened our first brewery in St. Louis. From the very beginning, our founders were committed to brewing superior beer with high-quality ingredients. You could also say that innovation is in our DNA. For example, in the early 1870s, Adolphus Busch was the first American brewer to use pasteurization, which enabled Anheuser-Busch to ship beer long distances without spoiling.
Our company and our people continue to be defined by their deep commitment to quality and spirit of innovation. Simply put, we are proud of our history of brewing great tasting beers, and consider ourselves guardians of that heritage. That’s why we continue to use only the finest raw ingredients, which are cultivated and cared for at every step of the brewing process. Our employees’ passion is what helped the company expand from a local St. Louis brewery to an industry leader, and it’s what continues to fuel our success today.
MB: Does the company’s history play a role in inspiring an ongoing entrepreneurial spirit inside Anheuser-Busch?
Bicklein: At Anheuser-Busch, we have a long-standing culture of ownership and taking great pride in our work. Whether it’s developing a new beer, brewing Budweiser, or working on the packaging line, every one of our employees takes immense pride in what we do. Personal ownership among employees is extremely high, especially because many of our employees have deep family roots at Anheuser-Busch. It’s a great thing to share a beer with a neighbor or see someone in your local super market buying your beer and feel that sense of ownership because you helped make it.
MB: During the acquisition talks in 2008, many people in Missouri wondered how becoming part of InBev might change Anheuser-Busch. I think it’s safe to say many Missourians were concerned. Eight years in, in what ways has the St. Louis-based operation transformed as it became a significant piece of a much larger organization?
Bicklein: We’ve been based in St. Louis since the brewery was founded in 1852, and to this day St. Louis remains the U.S. headquarters for the company. Quality has always been a top priority – and that will never change. Our St. Louis brewing team assesses our beers at every stage in the local brewing process. They gather daily to check raw materials, taste samples, and compare packaged beer between batches and breweries to ensure quality and consistency. Additionally, many of the brewing best practices developed in St. Louis have been incorporated into AB InBev breweries across the globe, reflecting our ongoing commitment to quality.
MB: Many Missourians are proud of the history behind Anheuser-Busch and the massive brewing facility in St. Louis. Today, what important roles do Anheuser-Busch’s Missouri-based workforce play inside the global operations of AB InBev?
Bicklein: Our St. Louis brewery remains our flagship brewery in the United States, and more than 20 of our brands are brewed in St. Louis. Interestingly, the yeast used to brew every Budweiser around the world still originates in our lab in St. Louis. That strain of yeast – which dates back to 1876 – plays an important role in making sure the taste of Budweiser remains consistent and true to how it was brewed more than 140 years ago.
Our St. Louis-based Research Pilot Brewery (RPB) remains the epicenter of innovation for AB InBev. The talented brewmasters who work at the RPB are constantly experimenting with brewing new beers; every new beer we launch – from Bud Light to Shock Top to the Lime-a-Ritas line – got its start in the RPB. In addition, those employees test our raw materials and that remains a critical component to ensuring quality and consistency for a global brewer.
MB: One trend we’ve seen, in Missouri and even globally, is consumers purchasing more craft beer products. Is that a concern for Anheuser-Busch? Do you see opportunity in the trend and how are you responding to that?
Bicklein: We’re excited about the rising interest in craft beer and as the industry leader we like seeing beer get the respect and attention it deserves. Craft brewers around the country have brought renewed interest to beer by introducing different styles of beer, new flavors and an incredible array of ingredients. While beer drinkers are becoming more educated and more curious about beers, we are constantly innovating to respond to consumer tastes. Our Research Pilot Brewery in St. Louis has a dedicated team focused on creating new beers with recipes and ingredients that really push the envelope.
Style preferences may differ but you can’t argue with quality – and Anheuser-Busch brews some of the best and most consistent beers in the world. We’ve been brewing for more than 150 years and the continued growth of the category is a long-term commitment for us. We are proud of all of our beers, from our core brands to the full breadth of our High End portfolio. By keeping quality and consistency at the heart of everything we brew, I am confident that we’ll continue to bring drinkers a variety of great beer well into the future.
MB: What role does innovation play in creating new Anheuser-Busch beers?
Bicklein: Our Research Pilot Brewery (RPB) in St. Louis has a dedicated team focused on new beers and fun, experimental recipes. It’s a training ground for up-and-coming brewmasters to experiment with ingredients and techniques – nothing is off the table. Regardless of the outcome of any experimental batch the process keeps our brewers skills fresh so that they can create the next big thing while also ensuring we’re able to brew Budweiser that meets our high-quality standards.
Every Anheuser-Busch beer introduced in the last 30 years has come from the RPB and at any time there may be 30 to 50 different beers in various stages of the brewing process in our test tanks. As of this past fall, our Biergarten in St. Louis now features a rotating exclusive beer from the RPB as part of our Underground Collection. We’re proud of our St. Louis roots and love being a part of the city’s thriving beer community.
MB: We continue to see headlines across the country where Anheuser-Busch is responding to disasters, including the flooding in Mississippi, the water crisis in Flint, Mich., and even the floods in Missouri last December. What drives the company to want to help out during these events?
Bicklein: Our history of providing aid to victims of natural disasters actually dates back to the late 1800s, when Adolphus Busch donated money to those impacted by the 1884 Ohio River Flood.
Anheuser-Busch’s canned water donation program began in 1960. Our robust distribution network and packaging capabilities allow us to very quickly ship drinking water to wherever it’s needed around the country. To date, we’ve donated more than 74 million cans of water and in the last five years we’ve provided relief to well over 50 communities across 20 states. For hundreds of years breweries have served as cornerstones of their communities, and the emergency drinking water donation program is an important part of our larger commitment to supporting the communities in which we do business.
MB: You’ve also been doing work to reduce the environmental impact of beer production. What progress have you made and what’s behind those initiatives?
Bicklein: We are committed to resourcefulness and sustainability efforts in St. Louis as well as in our other breweries, metal container facilities, malt plants and agricultural research centers across the country. More than just a critical ingredient in all of our products, water is a precious resource for the communities where Anheuser-Busch operates, and we are proud to have achieved an industry-leading water use ratio of 3.2 hectoliters per hectoliter of production. We achieved this by installing more water-efficient technologies in our breweries, helping our barley suppliers grow more with less water and working with local and global partners to improve water conditions at the watershed level. Anheuser-Busch also makes significant progress in water conservation every year by improving local watersheds in all U.S. cities where there is an Anheuser-Busch brewery, and other cities where we operate.
MB: In recent years, we’ve seen Anheuser-Busch invest in Missouri to create several new ways to experience your brand. These include the Biergarten at your St. Louis brewery and the Warm Springs Ranch Clydesdale breeding facility near Boonville. You also have a huge presence in Ballpark Village, developed by the St. Louis Cardinals. What’s behind these efforts to create branded spaces? Are similar projects happening elsewhere or is this mostly a Missouri phenomenon?
Bicklein: Given our history, St. Louis does have a special place in our hearts, but we take pride in our presence across all of our communities, nationwide. Sharing our passion, people and products in a variety of engaging ways is important to us. We want to make sure our communities understand our culture, including our history and deep commitment to brewing quality beers.
One of my favorite ways to do this is through our brewery tours. In my opinion, there is no better brewery experience than an Anheuser-Busch brewery tour. On a local level, we have welcomed guests to our flagship St. Louis brewery since it opened more than a century ago, and we’re proud of our mission of hospitality and connecting with beer drinkers. Whether someone visits the Biergarten or takes one of our tours, we want people to see and understand – firsthand – our brewing process, commitment to quality and consistency and talented people who make our beers. In everything we do, we want to create memorable experiences for beer drinkers and show them Anheuser-Busch cares deeply that the beers we brew are the absolute best.
MB: What is the company’s role in building a stronger future for the city?
Bicklein: As I mentioned before, the communities that we do business in are very important to us. Anheuser-Busch’s corporate mission is to Bring People Together For a Better World. We strive to promote a global culture of smart drinking, protect and preserve the environment and make a difference in our communities. This starts with our local communities. Our St. Louis brewery is an active member in the commercial and charitable life of the city.
We have long supported of The BackStoppers, which provides financial assistance and support to the spouses and dependent children of first responders. It is important to us to be a true partner in eliminating drunk driving, and this provides us the opportunity to support the families of those in our community who work to keep us safe.
Our employees share our vision for a better St. Louis. That is why they continue to donate thousands of dollars and volunteer hours. Anheuser-Busch was the first the American Red Cross Annual Disaster Giving Program member in St. Louis, and this helps the Red Cross ensure an immediate response to meet the needs of those affected by disasters of all sizes. Anheuser-Busch employees are also active in volunteering with the Red Cross locally, giving blood, and taking courses such as First Aid or CPR.
MB: What does the future hold for Anheuser-Busch in Missouri and what can the state do to help you continue to thrive here?
Bicklein: Our success in Missouri is due in large part to strong relationships between our employees, local leaders and neighboring communities. Recently, we invested $150 million to expand our Metal Container Corporation in Arnold. The project created 70 new jobs and doubled Anheuser-Busch’s aluminum bottle capacity in the U.S. The facility expansion was made possible through an incentive program in collaboration with the city of Arnold and state of Missouri, as well as support from Governor Nixon. We look forward to continuing to build on our heritage and tradition in St. Louis and its surrounding communities.