November 13, 2018
The brewing company AB InBev started over 800 years ago, in the experienced hands of Belgian monks. It was in those ancient abbeys where one of their original beer brands, Leffe, was born. Today, AB InBev owns 500 of the world’s most famous beer brands, including Budweiser, Corona, and Stella Artois, and boasts 56 offices around the world including Belgium, São Paulo, New York City, London, and Bangkok. With annual sales of $56.4 Billion, AB InBev is considered one of the largest fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies in the world, producing 613 million hectoliters of refreshing beverages each year.
“When I first got to AB InBev, I didn’t even know what a hectoliter was,” said Yang Tang, AB InBev’s Global Director of Engineering, speaking at Magento B2B Experience in September. “I learned that one hectoliter equals 26.4 gallons–that’s your average full-size SUV gas tank. So 613 million hectoliters, that’s a lot of fill-ups.”
Key to the company’s success is their B2B business, selling beers to bars, restaurants, and convenience stores. This was once an in-person experience, with salespeople selling directly to bar-owners. To rapidly digitize their business, AB InBev implemented a Contact 2.0 strategy to complement those traditional in-person sales and encourage online sales. Since then, online customers and revenue has grown by 100X. But the strategy did create growing pains: Operations became decentralized, with multiple platforms, inconsistent experiences, fragmented engineering capabilities, longer new site deployments, tech debt, and higher maintenance costs.
AB InBev needed a serious digital transformation. They tasked Magento Commerce, their core technology partner, with optimizing their B2B operations. An upgrade to Magento Commerce 2 was required. “Many of our South American zones decided to use Magento Commerce 1, and as we evolved we started to move those zones onto Magento Commerce 2,” said Yang. In the Southern Hemisphere, AB InBev’s customers are smaller bars and restaurants, who make regular orders for cases of beer. They were identified as having high growth potential, but with an Internet infrastructure that was not quite ready. Using a responsive mobile site, Parceiro AmBev in Brazil now offers delivery tracking on mobile, so bar owners can watch the truck wind its way towards them, even on a slow internet connection.
“My business partners were screaming for expanded capabilities in financial services and loyalty,” added Yang. “So we had to reimagine our technology strategy to put our customers at the center.” Prior to AB InBev, Yang had served in leadership roles in Engineering and Product organizations at Walmart, eBay, and Accenture. The challenge at AB InBev was that they needed several different solutions to meet various customer needs, and each region came with its own challenges. Yang decided the answer was microservices. Integrated via APIs, these microservices provide optimal commerce, financial services, marketing, and loyalty solutions to their customers, while leveraging the same database, data model, and application logic for easier management by the global engineering organization. Microservices offer the flexibility they needed to meet regional requirements. “Teams from each zone (region) can choose from available services to gain specific functionalities that meet their unique needs. ”
“To make the customer number one you must...build with speed and for speed,” said Yang. With Magento, AB InBev could move quickly, start small, and add more investment as needed.The result was a B2B platform that is boosting the growth of AB InBev’s far flung markets, where bar owners and restaurant owners can make orders directly with ease. Customer adoption of the system is high.
As he wrapped up his talk on stage in Chicago, Yang asked the audience: “So why invest more in digital transformation?” The answer is in AB InBev’s motto. They want to build a company to last: ‘brewing beer and building brands that will continue to bring people together for the next 100 years and beyond.’ “To the victor goes the spoils,” said Yang. “But the bottom line is you’re never done.”