How Anheuser-Busch InBev found rapid-delivery success in Brazil with Zé Delivery

While many ultra-fast delivery companies flood consumers with cross-category offerings from Skittles to Skims, Zé Delivery is proving that less could be more.

The Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned DTC service says it is Latin America’s largest alcohol and bev delivery platform, bringing ice-cold packs of its brands—like Budweiser and Brahma—to consumers’ doors in 30 minutes or less.

  • It was born out of the beer giant’s venture arm, ZX Ventures, in 2016, back before the boom in alcohol and grocery delivery, noted Guilherme Lebelson, AB InBev’s global VP of direct-to-consumer.

With beverage delivery “difficult to execute” because products are heavy and bulky, he noted, and low margins to ship (especially cold), it looked for a solution.

“We thought that we needed to somehow spearhead and push and try to do things that perhaps other retailers would take longer to do,” Lebelson told Retail Brew.

Bottled up

AB InBev fine-tuned Zé Delivery in Brazil until 2019, when the biz really picked up and it reached 1.6 million orders. Then the pandemic, of course, gave its business a boost. In 2021, it brought in 5 million orders monthly, and 61 million in total, Lebelson said. It was then that the company knew it was time to expand.

  • Zé Delivery is now in 300 Brazilian cities, and reaches 50+ million people in 10 more countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Mexico.

“Because this is no longer an experiment, we’re seeing that we can do this in a profitable way, to have this direct relationship with consumers, understand their needs, have the data on what they prefer, so we can optimize and iterate all the time,” Lebelson said.

  • AB InBev’s DTC e-comm platforms notched 62% revenue growth, reaching ~$500 million last year, though the company wouldn’t share financial figures for Zé Delivery.

Lebelson admitted AB InBev was initially “afraid” Zé Delivery wouldn’t be able to compete with multicategory retailers like Amazon. However, while several rapid-delivery companies have seen losses in recent months, Zé’s bev focus has been a driver of its success.

“The big realization was, this is a problem that nobody else is solving the way consumers want it to be solved,” Lebelson said.

Since AB InBev is itself a beer vendor, he noted, it doesn’t have to charge consumers a fee from POS partners or couriers. “We’re there to serve the consumer to sell our products as opposed to extracting some type of economic profits from the supply chain.”

Homebrew: So why isn’t there something like this in the US? Stateside, it’s not so simple, Lebelson explained. There’s a three-tier system for alcohol vendors to distribute their products: Breweries must sell to wholesalers, who sell to retailers, and then consumers.

  • Rapid-delivery companies, such as GoPuff, have become retailers themselves, getting liquor licenses in each state they operate in, Lebelson noted.

While Lebelson said that means there’s “not much” AB InBev can do in terms of DTC, its strategy in the US has been to “be super close” with alcohol-delivery channels like Drizly.

But the US does play a notable part in Zé’s business. The beer giant uses the service to track US consumer trends in other regions to see how they perform, he noted.

  • Amid the onset of the hard-seltzer craze in the US, AB InBev tested the products’ international appeal in Brazil. (While Latin America hasn’t seen a boom quite like the US did, the subcategory is gradually growing there.)

Cracking the consumer: It’s also learned lessons about consumer behavior and demands within Latin America, like the evolving use occasion for its service. When Zé started, Lebelson said “emergency” purchases (i.e., running out of beer at a party) accounted for ~70% to 80% of sales. Now, that same percentage is turning to Zé to simply restock their fridges.

“If you think about it, it’s what Uber did for commuting, or for driving. I sold my car in 2015. I never bought a car again because I know that I could count on Uber. What you’re seeing is that people are changing the way they iterate with the category in supermarkets,” Lebelson explained. “So as opposed to, ‘Hey, I’m going to the supermarket. I’m buying everything that I need for my supermarket shopping lists,’ I know that I can remove beer out of that list, because I know there’s a solution that will serve me the right way.”

  • AB InBev is also using consumer insight to inform packaging updates with sizes beyond the traditional 12-packs and 24-packs. Plus, brands use Zé to test volume of how much red lager or double-malt beer it should produce, or which hard-seltzer flavors they should offer.

“This whole concept that you would have to spend months doing consumer research, blind tests, and all that, you can simply leapfrog if you have this direct connection,” Lebelson said.

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