Stuart MacFarlane is giving up leadership of AB InBev's UK operations and moving to Moscow to run its Eastern European business.

MacFarlane, who becomes zone president for Central and Eastern Europe from 1 January next year, will be replaced by Inge Plochaet, currently AB InBev's commercial vice president for Western Europe.

Industry observers have said MacFarlane's promotion makes sense for the business as the Eastern European market has greater potential for growth than the UK. "He has done a good job here and the company will be looking to expand in Eastern Europe," said one. "The region has had a difficult time but is seeing growth now."

MacFarlane has been with AB InBev for 20 years. He became president of the company's UK and Ireland operations in 2008, and led the business through the integration of InBev UK and Anheuser-Busch.

Under his leadership the company has rolled out products including Stella 4%, which was hailed as the most successful alcohol launch of the past 10 years following its rollout in 2008. However, sales have since fallen 29.7% year-on-year to £46.7m [Nielsen 52w/e 14 May 2011], as the company switched its promotional focus last year to Budweiser, which has grown 22.6% to £248.9m over the same period.

This year the company entered the cider category with Stella Artois Cidre a product pundits believe would be a good fit with the Central and Eastern European market.

"The company is probably looking at the global market for cider, and the US and Europe will be key to this," said one observer.

MacFarlane said he was looking forward to his new role but added: "My priority remains with our customers here, and ensuring a smooth transition to my UK successor."

Plochaet joined the business in 1995 from Procter & Gamble, and her career at AB InBev has included sales and supply chain roles.