Paula Lindenberg

Paula Lindenberg joins from AB InBev’s Brazilian business

AB InBev’s new UK boss has big shoes to fill. As Jason Warner, the beer giant’s current president for the UK and North Europe, prepares to depart for a more expansive role as European president come January 2019, his successor has finally been named: Paula Lindenberg.

Lindenberg is currently vice president for marketing for AmBev, InBev’s Brazilian wing – and one of the drinks behemoth’s key markets. And a matter of months from now she’ll be swapping Sao Paulo for the slightly less picturesque Luton. Still, a drearier commute is arguably a small price to pay for what qualifies as one hell of a promotion.

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Initial omens for Lindenberg are good. AB InBev lives and dies on the ability to sell its brands as ‘premium’ above all else (though more sceptical shoppers may roll their eyes at the idea that Stella and Budweiser, with their 30-odd pence premium over shelf mates Carlsberg and Foster’s, can really be considered a posher option). So a 17-year InBev marketing veteran makes complete sense – those are the same chops that have made Warner such an efficient lead.

Many of the drinks sector’s head honchos have risen through the ranks of sales, finance or supply chain. But Warner is a marketing man through and through. More than anything he understands how to take arguably quite similar products and seed them into distinct demographics with an effective combination of relevant tie-ups and targeted advertising.

Understandably, AB InBev will have been searching for a successor who understands the importance of finding a niche, even for a massive brand like Budweiser. Given the shape Warner is leaving the ship in, InBev’s senior management will be looking for more of the same. That the brief has been tightened to focus solely on the UK & Ireland, rather than the whole of Northern Europe as Warner’s remit was, could further aid Lindenberg – the UK beer market has little in common with that of France, Spain or Scandinavia.

That’s not to say AB InBev’s UK operation is firing completely on all cylinders. There are significant issues to address across its wider portfolio. Little has been done to rescue Beck’s from its current decline, for instance: as of this April, the lager brand was down £6.6m (7.5%) to £81m, battered on all fronts by pricier lagers, insurgent craft beers and, in the case of Beck’s Blue, by a slew of newer (and often trendier) entrants to the booming no-and-low alcohol beer market such as Heineken 0.0% and BrewDog’s Nanny State [Nielsen 52 w/e 21 April 2018].

Leffe, too, while only accounting for a comparatively small portion of AB InBev’s UK sales, could use some attention: its sales fell almost 5% this year. And Warner has repeatedly spoken of the need to revive AB InBev’s classic ale portfolio, which includes the likes of Bass and Boddingtons, yet little has manifested on that front apart from a new advert for the latter, which re-enlists Melanie Sykes. Neither of those brands, both of which used to command serious commercial and cultural heft, even make it into the UK’s top 150 beer brands by supermarket value sales.

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Lindenberg will also take the reins just a matter of months before Brexit, with the outlook still shockingly unclear as to how our departure from the EU will play out. It is not unfair to suggest that many CEOs across not just food and drink, but the wider business sector, will rise and fall based on how they steer their respective businesses through what is set to be the defining political earthquake of the decade.

Given Lindenberg will have just a matter of months to acclimatise to the UK market before the hailstorm of Brexit hits, there will be no shortage of pressure on her to hit the ground running.