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Bud and burgers: Can food help make the American beer more premium in the UK?

Budweiser is out to prove it’s not just craft and world beers that pair well with food, concocting a marketing strategy that tries to convince it’s the ideal beer for the high-end burger.

The American beer has always had strong associations with food – and especially with BBQ, Isabelle Maratier, senior brand manager at Budweiser, told The Drum. In fact, in 1904 at The World’s Fair in St Louis, the burger was introduced to the world, and Budweiser was there to accompany it. With this in mind, the beer is on a marketing push to ensure it’s top of mind when people in the UK are thinking about what to drink with their grub.

It launched a campaign nationwide earlier this summer that has seen it host events attended by the likes of comedian Jack Whitehall alongside its King of BBQs competition to find the nation’s top BBQ chef. Food porn featuring burgers, chips and sauces are all over the brand’s social media feeds, while it has also put together a Budweiser Burger Combination Guide, offering hints, tips and recipes on how to create the ultimate burger.

“Across this country and around the world, people are discovering how well beer pairs with food, with so many different styles available for different occasions and taste profiles,” said Maratier. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a trend towards classic American food and ‘diner’ style restaurants in the UK so it made sense for Budweiser to grow its presence alongside this. We also know that Budweiser over-indexes as a brand associated with BBQ so it’s clear beer drinkers like the combination.”

It’s a tactic the brewer expects will boost its premium credentials in the off-trade, an issue many struggle with given the raft of heavy discounting done by supermarkets during the summer. Bespoke BBQ Budweiser packs, in store promotions, BBQ recipe cards, point of sale merchandise and exclusives with retailers have been cooked up to help ensure that the brand people are being marketed is the one they’re being sold.

Budweiser’s campaign builds on the work it’s doing in the US where the competition from craft beers is arguably strongest. The likes of Meantime Brewing Company and Brooklyn Brewery have enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence thanks to their ability to pique the interest and taste buds of younger drinkers willing to pay more for complex beers that steer clear of traditional brewing processes. Consequently, their full-bodied flavours are seen as a great accompaniment to food, particularly street food that’s becoming such a prominent staple on both sides of the Atlantic.

“We are really happy with the conversation that craft has sparked and the renewed consumer interest in beer globally. It’s a conversation we’re proud to be a part of, and we’ve been really pleased with the positive response we’ve had thus far – and look forward to continuing it,” added Maratier.

It would appear the approach is starting to gain traction in the beer’s homeland. Budweiser’s market share in the US is improving thanks in part to its "Bud and Burger" work the company claimed in its latest quarterly results, which helped push volumes worldwide up by 6.4 per cent. Budweiser’s AB InBev stablemate Stella Artois is seemingly starting to enjoy similar gains from its own work with food. Stella Artois’ global volumes rose 4.9 per cent in the quarter with the UK being singled out as a key region, a performance no doubt buoyed by the beer and food service it’s been running.

Other big brewers have also jumped on the bandwagon in an attempt to broaden their appeal to younger drinks and women. However, food and beer pairings still remain the domain of the smaller, less mainstream brands like Peroni and Leffe.

Mainstream beer brands will be hoping to breach this barrier with their latest combined to kickstart shrinking sales. Brewed under the “British Beer Alliance (BBA), the nation’s five biggest brewers – AB InBev, SABMiller, Heineken, Carlsberg and Molson Coors – alongside smaller players like Fuller’s and Thwaites are running a marketing campaign to show that there’s a beer for every type of culinary experience.

“A lot of the big players are changing their advertising approach so that it’s less about being image-led to more about the perfect serve and beer and food pairings," David Cunningham, programme director for the BBA’s “There’s a Beer for That’ campaign, told The Drum earlier this year.

“It won’t happen overnight but collectively as the industry begins to change together it will become more prevalent. In many ways it’s the same challenge as wine. A lot of win is consumed under a certain price point and the category, like beer, has to move away. We’ve got a long way to go.”

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