UPDATE 1-AB InBev creates US business unit for premium beers

Wed Aug 6, 2014 1:45pm EDT

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LONDON Aug 6 (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), known for its mass market Budweiser beer, is creating a new business unit in the United States devoted to premium beers as it tries to improve its presence in a fast-growing segment of the beer market.

With young drinkers increasingly interested in spirits and other drinks, the U.S. beer market shrank 1.9 percent in 2013 to 196.2 million barrels, according to the Brewers Association trade group. Yet "craft" beers, or those made by small, independent brewers, rose 17.2 percent.

The new unit, which will include AB InBev brands such as Goose Island and Blue Point, will be based in Chicago, which places it "in closer touch with urban consumers, their way of thinking, lifestyle and the accounts they visit," said an internal announcement made on Wednesday and seen by Reuters.

It will be led by Felipe Szpigel, who joined the brewer 15 years ago as a global management trainee.

AB InBev, the world's largest brewer, is not alone in trying to accelerate sales of beers that are more profitable and appeal to more discerning drinkers.

MillerCoors, the combined US operations of SABMiller and Molson Coors, has a unit called Tenth and Blake, which promotes its premium beers Blue Moon, Jacob Leinenkugel and Blitz-Weinhard and its Crispin and Fox Barrel ciders.

Mainstream lagers such as Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite have lost ground in recent years, hit by a wave of more upmarket, more flavourful drinks such as ales, stouts and wheat beers.

AB InBev's new unit should boost sales of its higher-end beers since it includes dedicated marketing and sales staff, as well as staff for supply and finance functions.

Another internal message announced the departure of Bud Light vice president, Rob McCarthy. McCarthy will be replaced by Alexander Lambrecht.

News of the internal moves was first reported by trade publication Beer Business Daily.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Louise Heavens and Shadia Nasralla)

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