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Anheuser, Czech rival reach joint distribution deal

January 09, 2007|From the Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — There's a thaw in the century-old fight between Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar. The companies announced a joint distribution deal Monday even as they vowed to continue their international legal fight over the Budweiser trademark.

St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch said it agreed to distribute Budvar's Czechvar Premium Czech Lager, which is currently sold in 30 states. That means the Czech company will get access to Anheuser-Busch's unrivaled network of 600 independent wholesalers.

The nation's biggest brewer is making nice with Budvar as part of its plan to add more high-end imported beers to its portfolio. The maker of brands such as Budweiser, Michelob and Bud Light has seen sales flag as consumers turn to craft beers and foreign beers.

Over the last year, Anheuser-Busch has formed partnerships to distribute brands such as Grolsch, Kirin and Stella Artois.

Although domestic U.S. beer sales grew less than 2% over the last year, import beer sales surged 12.5% in the 10 months of 2006 that have been tallied, according to industry newsletter Beer Marketer's Insights.

It's too early to tell how successful Anheuser-Busch's import strategy will be, said Benj Steinman, publisher of Beer Marketer's Insights.

Anheuser-Busch and Budvar agreed that their U.S. distribution deal, which became effective Friday, will have no effect on their legal dispute.

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