Bud, an American Icon, Pursued by Belgian Firm

Other American Business Icons Snatched Up By Foreign Firms

  • Ben & Jerry's, the celebrated Vermont ice cream maker, sold its business to Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch conglomerate, in 2000 for $326 million. Unilever owns other American companies as well.
  • Miller Brewing Company was purchased by the South African Breweries Limited in 2002 for $5.6 billion. The new company, SABMiller, was formed after this transaction.
  • IBM sold its laptop business to Chinese tech firm Lenovo in 2004 for $1.75 billion.
  • GE Plastics was purchased by SABIC, Saudi Basic Industries Corp., for $11.6 billion in 2007.
  • Germany-based Daimler-Benz paid $36 billion in 1998 for American carmaker Chrysler Corp. in what was described as a merger of equals. But the projected synergies between the two companies never materialized, and Daimler sold off the Chrysler Group to a private equity group in May 2007 for the fire sale price of $7.4 billion.

America's "King of Beers" may wind up in the hands of a Belgian brewer.

InBev has made a $46 billion bid for Anheuser-Busch, brewer of Budweiser, Bud Light and Michelob. If the deal goes through, InBev would become the world's largest brewer, adding the iconic American brands to a lineup that includes Stella Artois and Beck's. But the deal is a long way from being final.

News of the bid didn't go over well at Patty O's, a bar in the shadow of Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. Bar manager Jason Armbruster says his regulars aren't happy about the news that the maker of Budweiser might be acquired by a foreign firm. He says comparisons to the foreign buyout of Miller Beer don't really apply.

"Miller's been owned by a foreign company forever, but Anheuser-Busch kind of stands for America," Armbruster says.

Throughout the 1980s, '90s and up till now, Anheuser-Busch staked out its marketing turf by propping up Bud's red, white and blue pedigree. Remember those "Here's to you, America" commercials?

InBev's CEO, Carlos Brito, says that mixture of branding and market savvy is a perfect fit for a world player like InBev. Brito laid out his plans for Anheuser-Busch to industry analysts on a conference call earlier Thursday.

"Budweiser is already one of the most recognized and beloved brands in the world," Brito said, "and it's our intention to expand Budweiser even further, through our extensive distribution network."

InBev's reputation for slashing costs is no secret, and it has many speculating that as many as 2,000 white- and blue-collar jobs in St. Louis may be on the line.

"Certainly, InBev is putting a positive spin on things, saying that this could be a great potential to increase Bud's global strength," says Don Volanski, who has worked in marketing at Anheuser-Busch for more than 15 years. "But just with the reputation of InBev — their cost cutting — I think has a lot of employees concerned how this might play out."

For the past five years, Anheuser-Busch's share price has been relatively stagnant at around $50 per share. InBev is offering $65 per share.

Former Anheuser-Busch marketing executive Bill Finnie says with so much shareholder profit on the line, a merger might be a foregone conclusion. But that doesn't mean it will be easy to make it work.

"Done wrong, it's going to be a disaster for InBev, for Anheuser-Busch and its people," he said. "Done right, it could be a huge win for all three."

InBev has stated that it would make St. Louis its North American headquarters, which could go a long way toward solving its public relations concerns.

Anheuser-Busch's board of directors has been quiet, saying only that it will pursue the course of action that is in the best interests of company shareholders.

Adam Allington reports from KWMU in St. Louis.