COVID-19 Business in Action Interview Series: Anheuser-Busch

June 30, 2020

The unprecedented spread of COVID-19 has brought a great deal of uncertainty to our world, with communities, businesses, and governments taking drastic measures to adapt to this new reality. As the coronavirus situation continues to unfold, one thing is clear: the business community is on the frontlines of the fight against the pandemic, demonstrating unparalleled agility and innovation to help our country navigate this health and economic crisis as fast and effectively as possible. 

We sat down with business leaders driving the global corporate response to COVID-19 to learn more about their efforts, how they are navigating this uncharted territory, and what advice they have for others. 

Q1: Thank you for participating in our interview series with business leaders driving their company’s response to COVID-19. Can you tell us a little about your efforts at Anheuser-Busch to address the impacts of COVID-19? 

This pandemic has changed how we all live our lives, how we engage with our families and friends, and how we approach our everyday business. What it hasn’t changed is our priorities and our commitments as an employer, a business partner and a corporate citizen.  

Our top focus has always been our employees.  We have implemented a significant number of measures and protocols across our organization to ensure our colleagues have the support and resources they need to stay safe and healthy.  For our employees that have been working on site because they are essential to our operations, we have implemented social spacing, enhanced sanitization protocols and extensive screening measures in every one of our facilities.  We also instituted a temporary pay increase for those in our breweries and distributorships that have been critical in ensuring our products remain available for our customers.  In addition, all of our full-time employees have guaranteed COVID-19 related sick leave with pay.

Our products and brands have played a key role in providing some joy, comfort and normalcy at a time when those things are needed more than ever.  We have been taking active measures to protect and support our supply chain partners, including our suppliers, our wholesalers, and our retailers. We completely revamped our marketing activities - including our advertising - to be sensitive to the crisis and to leverage the connection our brands have with consumers to generate additional support for community organizations across the U.S.

At Anheuser-Busch we have always taken great pride in our long history of stepping up to serve our communities in times of need.  During the COVID-19 crisis we have been leveraging our unique capabilities, our relationships and our reach to support the heroes on the front lines, including producing and distributing more than 500,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to communities in need and partnering with The American Red Cross to execute more than 60 blood drives in sports stadiums across the country.

Q2: As a global company, Anheuser-Busch operates across a wide range of geographies. How were you able to address the unique needs of communities in different parts of the world? Did you have a unified approach or work with local teams to devise custom solutions? 

While there are unique needs in different parts of the world, our commitment to protect our people, our partners and our communities is consistent everywhere. Our global footprint is a key strength at times like this because we have the ability to positively impact communities all over the world.  Our experience in other countries enabled us to move earlier and faster to prepare for and manage through this crisis.

Q3: Anheuser-Busch has partnered with the American Red Cross to identify stadiums that can be used for temporary blood drive centers and donated TV airtime for public service announcements. What is the value of partnerships particularly in emergencies like this? 

Our partnership with the Red Cross is a special one. It goes back to 1906 when Adolphus Busch donated $100,000 to support the Red Cross’ relief efforts after the San Francisco earthquake. 

Today, we work closely with them on our Emergency Drinking Water Program. Our amazing teams at our breweries in Cartersville Georgia and in Fort Collins Colorado temporarily pause brewing beer a few times a year and convert their lines to produce clean safe emergency drinking water.  We store the water in our warehouses and then, when natural disasters hit and our partners at the Red Cross call, we can quickly mobilize and ship that water to the areas where it’s needed.  The Red Cross ultimately distributes the water to impacted families on the ground. This program has been in place since 1988 and, together, we’ve shipped more than 80 million cans of water to communities in need during that time. It’s a partnership we’ve very proud of. 

This long partnership with the American Red Cross—one where mutual trust and strong intrapersonal relationships have been cultivated over time—is why we were able to mobilize so effectively and efficiently when this disaster struck. In times of crisis, it is human nature to call on people and companies you have confidence in. Sustainable and continuing partnerships are the best way to build that trust.

Q4: Over the course of this crisis, we’ve seen unprecedented agility and ingenuity from the business community, as they’ve rearranged operations or shifted production overnight to find real-time solutions. What do you think this crisis has shown about the role of business in society? 

The resourcefulness and agility that we have seen from the business community has been impressive.  In times of crisis it takes everyone – government, the private sector, NGO’s – working together.  We can all bring something unique and we can all be part of the solution.

When it comes to giving back it’s important for companies like ours to look beyond the checkbook.  That’s not to say that financial contributions are not important. We are very proud of our Anheuser-Busch Foundation and the strong partnerships that we have forged over many decades with a wide array NGO’s and community-based organizations that rely on critical funding to do their remarkable work. 

But we’ve now seen how a commitment to philanthropy and to community giving can be taken to the next level. Traditional corporate social responsibility can at times be rather passive and distant. Many companies have certain assets and capabilities that can make a more unique impact on the health of our communities. 

In addition to producing and distributing bottles of hand sanitizer, we have leveraged our partnerships with professional sport leagues and teams to donate stadiums and arenas for temporary blood drive centers for use by the American Red Cross. In addition, we’ve donated our tour centers in Merrimack, NH and St. Louis, MO for blood drives and media air time so the ARC can run public service announcements. 

As our focus turns to recovery, we are leveraging our resources to support a safe and strong reopening of bars and restaurants across the U.S.

Q5: A lot of CSR departments are shifting their resources to deal with the impacts of COVID-19. What do you think this will mean for the future of CSR and how companies approach it going forward?  

It’s important for companies to be purpose-driven and to maintain a strong commitment to CSR initiatives.  COVID-19 has reminded everyone of the importance of focus – let’s focus on the areas that have a direct impact and can lift our communities, and not only in times of crisis.

At AB we are dedicated to being a leader in the areas of responsible drinking, sustainability and disaster relief (in the form of our emergency drinking water program).  We are also committed to creating jobs and to purchasing the ingredients and materials to make our products from farmers and suppliers right here in the U.S.   Now, as the country’s leading beverage company, we have a responsibility to our people – farmers, grocers, restaurant owners, wholesalers, union members, bartenders, drivers, and consumers – to play a leading role in our country’s recovery.  

Supporting our communities is woven into everything we do as a business.  Our products and our company bring people together and we will never stop looking for ways to contribute to strengthen our communities.  Our hope is that we never have to face a crisis like COVID-19 again but if we do, you can count on Anheuser-Busch being there to do our part.