FEATURE – Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I’s Sunny Mirpuri

FEATURE: Pubs offer huge growth opportunity for BBG

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

A man to count on: south London-born Sunny Mirpuri turned to sales after forging a financial career
A man to count on: south London-born Sunny Mirpuri turned to sales after forging a financial career

Related tags Budweiser Brewing Group Beer Finance Ab inbev Sunny Mirpuri

If pubs are thriving then so can the biggest brewer in the world.

UK pubs and the on-trade offer Budweiser Brewing Group UK&I – part of the brewing giant AB InBev – the chance to shine, according to Sunny Mirpuri, who is the new Budweiser Brewing Group (BBG) UK&I on-trade sales director.

Sure, you’ve seen some of its beers – Budweiser, Stella and Camden to name a few – take up prime real estate on supermarkets shelves but the off-trade is not all that is open for the brewer.

Mirpuri explains: “We under-index in the on-trade and it’s a huge opportunity of growth for us. Comparing ourselves to our competitors, we don’t own pubs, we don’t own wholesalers, we don’t own our own logistics so we pride ourselves on not being a competitor of our business partners.

“This means we want to continue to work with them to drive growth together and will continue to do that into the future.”

He adds: “The on-trade is hugely important to our business. We’ll continue to invest not only in our beers but finding ways to make it a healthy and safe category to be in and a diverse one as well - and making sure that everybody’s included within that.

“We’ll continue to work with our customers in a positive way, building partnerships, building long-term growth and value for them and we’re open to feedback as well. We’re not perfect. We’re continuing to learn.”

The south London-born and raised man was made a freeman of City of London at Brewers’ Hall in Barbican, shortly before this interview took place.

Occasions and drinking habits in the off-trade are quite different to those in the on-trade

His background was set to be in accounting but a premature excitement over Excel gave way to the chance of working at BBG shortly after leaving university.

“I’ve been at all the different iterations of Budweiser such as Interbrew, InBev and AB InBev, which is now Budweiser Brewing Group for the past 15 years, pretty much straight after university,” Mirpuri states.

He studied accounting and finance and was “very excited” about spreadsheets and numbers but realised they were a little too dull for his liking before BBG, in its previous iterations, caught his eye.

He explains: “I didn’t know about InBev as a company, but I got a call one day saying about them and didn’t know them but when I was asked if I’d heard of brands Stella Artois and Beck’s and I was like ‘wow, yeah of course I have’.

Having success in gaining an accounting assistant job, he studied for an account management qualification and worked mornings, evenings and nights outside of work to earn those credentials.

A string of different finance roles were taken within the company over a six-year period and the close collaboration with the sales team led to him jumping ship to that particular department.

“I was drawn to it because my family had their own business and I used to spend a lot of school holidays in and around that family textiles business, helping out when I was young,” he says.

“I found sales at InBev interesting and learnt about the business and about sales as well so I had a bit of a natural affinity to it.”

Having worked mainly in the off-trade side, he changed role again to look after the category management team, which meant spending time working with retailers and on-trade businesses to help develop and grow the category by looking at different occasions and trends.

More recently, his job was looking after wholesale convenience in the off-trade but now he is “incredibly excited” to work with the on-trade and the drinks dispense team”.

Positive interactions

Mirpuri continues: “What I’ve realised is the occasions and drinking habits in the off-trade are quite different to those in the on-trade and they’re accelerating faster in the on-trade as well.

“Our dream is to create a future in the industry of ‘more moments of cheers’ and celebrations.

“That means more positive interactions with our brands and we also need to make sure it’s a healthy category. It’s making sure it’s healthy by supporting it and not only by having great brands to attract consumers but also making sure it’s a safe one.

“As an example of this, the team has worked really well in the past year in partnering with Walk Safe. Walk Safe is important for the night-time economy as well. People are much more concerned and rightly so that they’re getting home safely and they’re going to a safe pub – this counts for customers of pubs and people who work in pubs.”

When people go out, they’re going out less but are looking to treat themselves

He adds customers need to be made aware there is an app available and the benefits it offers as well and the partnership was advertised under the tagline ‘Get every Bud home safe’.

BBG has also worked with Hospitality Action by donating ‘Stella Tips’. Every time a pint of Stella is bought, £1 was donated to the charity.

“We can do better as a business and we can do better as an industry in supporting the on-trade by being safer so people can enjoy themselves when they go out,” Mirpuri says.

Another scheme launched was Bees, which is a platform for BBG’s customers to order their products from where they can see the full portfolio of products, see the pricing, can choose their delivery days and that allows the ordering process to be a lot easier, says Mirpuri.

Quality of serve

Covid has had so many effects on pubs and Mirpuri says many changes during the pandemic have impacted the on-trade much more than the off-trade.

He says: “Consumer habits have changed and we can see the overall category post-Covid is a smaller one than it was before that.

“We’ve seen pub closures but we have also seen the surviving pubs and restaurants improve and we know when people go out, they’re going out less but when they are looking to treat themselves.

“It’s important that beer plays a role in that because we see it as an affordable luxury.

“People are choosing to go out once every two weeks rather than once or twice a week, for example, and when they do, they really want to try and find the right place.

“People are doing a lot of checks on Google reviews to check they’re happy with the place that they’re going to. Publicans are looking at this as well so we are making sure we’re working with the publicans to help train them on improving the quality of their serve and improving their quality of their beer as an example towards helping improving the overall experience.”

Digitalisation has been huge post-Covid and it’s not just from BBG to its customers where that has taken place.

Mirpuri argues: “A lot of consumers are downloading apps, they are ordering from their table digitally as well. We need to support our customers on digital tools for that but we can help drive football by using digitalisation.”

To that end, BBG is keen to stress the importance of service, particularly with the launch of ‘Perfect Serve’ with its Stella brand.

We’re continuing to innovate on craft, which continues to be an area of trial in the on-trade as well

The Perfect Serve is about training pubs to improve the quality and execution of the Stella serve, Mirpuri says. “We have a long, rich history within Stella Artois about the way the beer is poured and served in the chalice.

“We want to continue to focus on that and have launched an initiative to consumers who can input their details on a website, find out where the nearest pub is they can buy a Stella then they can rate that serve and send a photo of the receipt and will be reimbursed as a reward for rating that pint and for going to that pub.

“That helps drive footfall to pubs and hopefully additional serves, improved execution in the quality of beer and repeat purchases in the future.”

Mirpuri adds BBG data shows some 73% of people would not go back to a pub if they had a bad pint and this rises to more than 95% if they’ve had a second bad pint.

On trends, the on-trade sales director explains BBG has a huge amount of data and it’s no secret the biggest trend is premiumisation.

He states: “It continues to grow across different categories as well and you’re seeing it accelerate in the on-trade, in particular.

“As consumers are choosing this, there is a squeezed core going on, so the standard lager that used to be three [taps], that three is going to two and that two is going to one and it allows the publican to have a greater range of more premium beers – it just continues to grow and grow.

“And we’ve been working very hard to ensure we have our full portfolio of offerings for publicans.

“Over the past few months, we have launched Stella Unfiltered, which plays in this area as well, along with Via Roma lager and Camden Stout.”

Continue to premiumise

People are not happy to lie down and do nothing as their lives go on even if their pockets are not as rich as they may once have been, Mirpuri argues.

“What we’ve seen over the years is that sometimes there is an economic downturn. Even in this economic downturn, people still want to go out and beer is an affordable luxury and people will still continue to premiumise within the category.

“Having said that, there is a huge cost consciousness in people’s minds, particularly at the moment, with disposable income not being as high as it was before, so we have a range within that sphere as well.

“We see Budweiser as a gateway into premiumisation. You see that in the off-trade as well as in the on-trade as well.

The growth of no and low has been well documented 

“We also have Beck’s within our portfolio as well, which is a little bit lower ABV and because of the amount of duty here in the UK allows the price of the pint to be slightly lower as well.”

BGG claims to offer products across the spectrum, so in the core range is Beck’s and Bud Light then it steps up to Budweiser, Stella Artois, and into Corona, Mahou, Stella Unfiltered, Via Roma and Camden Hells and Camden Pale Ale.

In the on-trade, ale is a huge segment and so is stout now, Mirpuri says. “Ale is circa 16% and stout is just over 10% of the category. Hence why the launch of Camden Stout and within the Camden side, we’re continuing to innovate on craft, which continues to be an area of trial in the on-trade as well, with the launch of Eazy Hazy IPA.

“Most of our beers offer a no and low variant too so, for example, we have Budweiser Zero, Stella Artois 0.0% and Corona Cero, which is a very exciting platform.

“The growth of no and low has been well documented and in the past year it’s grown 25.8% in the on-trade. While it’s a small base, if that continues to grow at that rate of double digits it will, it will become big.”

He adds no and low is consumed at a higher level in Germany and in Spain, in fact the category’s market share is in double digits.

“We see that trend not only happening here in the UK but across the globe,” he continues.

“That’s why we’re super excited about the launch of the partnership between Corona Cero and the Olympics. We are the first beer partner with the Olympics and this could be hugely exciting for the on-trade because we are working with our partners to create opportunities to raise more awareness around the Olympics, to drive footfall to pubs and create new moments and occasions in the on-trade.”

With Budweiser, football rules as Euro 2024 approaches in June.

Mirpuri says: “The times of the games work in our favour and we will be supporting the on-trade in creating more excitement, opportunities for them to use our branded assets to call out people so they can book their space at the pub, get their Buds in nice and early and enjoying that Euros experience as well.

“There will be things that we’ll be giving away during that tournament. Speed of service is something we’ll lean into for the on-trade such as pre-booking for a bucket of Buds. We’ll give away some Budweiser bucket hats because it’s very cultural thing and popular among the football landscape.”

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