Free beer on tap as Bud seeks image boost

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev's ABI.BRBUD.N latest effort to revive its long-ailing Budweiser brand includes free beer at bars across the United States just as consumers are beginning to go out again after a recession-imposed respite.

Anheuser-Busch President Dave Peacock told Reuters on Thursday that the world’s largest brewer aims to give free samples of Budweiser to some 500,000 people at trendy U.S. bars and restaurants in coming weeks, with a particular emphasis on people who have never tried the brand.

“That’s an issue for us, especially among younger consumers,” Peacock said. “It’s a brand that in some respects that’s taken for granted by some, and we need to make sure that it doesn’t get taken for granted.”

“When we blind taste-test this product, it often wins,” he said, illustrating his hope that once more people taste Budweiser, more people will drink it.

The sampling event comes as sales trends at bars and restaurants are starting to improve slightly for mainstream beer brands, according to syndicated data, Peacock said, but added sales remain challenged.

The company also plans to reallocate most of its media spending to the Budweiser brand.

For one week, about 90 percent of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s media spending in the United States will focus on Budweiser, up from the typical 35 to 40 percent.

“We’re not shy about the fact that (Budweiser) it’s been declining for over 20 years, so we need to stabilize the brand,” Peacock said. “Part of that is going to be engaging with newer consumers as they come in, who come in with really fresh eyes and no preconceived notions.”

Belgium’s InBev acquired St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch in 2008, creating the world’s largest brewer with brands including Stella Artois, Beck’s and Bud Light.

Anheuser's fierce competition with SABMiller Plc SAB.L and Molson Coors Brewing Co TAP.N has heated up in the economic downturn as consumers pay more attention to price and value when they shop.

Peacock said Anheuser’s sales plans for the upcoming autumn include price increases on some products in some markets, including some on Budweiser and Bud Light.

Reporting by Martinne Geller, editing by Matthew Lewis, Leslie Gevirtz