A world with fewer restaurants is bad for Anheuser-Busch InBev.
The company, whose brands include Budweiser, Michelob Ultra and Blue Point among many others, depends heavily on orders from restaurants and bars.
And sales haven’t been great since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
So AB InBev invested to help restaurants and bars stay afloat through a partnership with Brazil-based VTEX, its global enterprise sales, order management and marketplace software provider.
“We saw the opportunity to give a solution to so many venues that have been closed,” said Bruno Farber, Head of On-Trade Retail at AB InBev-backed incubator ZX Ventures.
Funded by AB InBev, VTEX is equipping restaurants in Latin America and Central America with digital ordering and delivery systems, click and collect capabilities, mobile payments and contactless ordering solutions on site – all critical investments most venues don’t have the resources to make on their own.
“People are trying to avoid touching menus and are using their cell phones to order delivery,” Farber said. “This solution helps ensure [restaurants] can still offer their products and services.”
AB InBev tested VTEX’s solutions for restaurants and bars in more than 500 owned-and-operated locations before rolling them out in the LATAM market in early July. Local restaurants don’t have to pay anything to use the software (AB InBev is footing that bill), and they can avoid paying the notoriously high commissions charged by third-party delivery services, such as Grubhub, by launching delivery capabilities through their own websites.
That’s critical in countries, including Mexico and Colombia, where roughly 65% and 40% of restaurants respectively are predicted to fold as a result of the pandemic, Farber said.
“In most cases, these venues don't have a point-of-sale system or website,” he said. “We give them this solution for free, and they gain the ability for consumers to order from them directly.”
AB InBev is keen on helping restaurants stay in business in large part because closures would impact its own bottom line. Farber declined to break out what percentage of the company’s sales come from bars and restaurants, but it’s significant.
The VTEX solutions, however, only work in markets where it’s legal for people to order alcohol online. In the United States, for example, laws prevent alcohol manufacturers from directly selling to consumers.
“Giving this option to [venues] as soon as possible is our goal,” Farber said. “We decided to focus on places we can roll out really fast.”
Next up, AB InBev plans to release the solutions in markets across Europe.
AB InBev signed a global enterprise deal with VTEX this month that extends beyond its restaurant sales business, and the platform has already been implemented in more than 22 countries.
VTEX, which competes with Shopify globally, consolidates order management, commerce and retailer and distributor sales solutions into a single platform designed to forecast demand, show pricing across regions and automatically tie that data back to behavioral data.
“They can see the inventory pricing at a channel level, support a consumer coming onto a site and better service them because they know how they spend their money,” said VTEX chief revenue officer Joseph Lee. “They can also better optimize pricing in the future.”
AB InBev doesn’t yet have results to share for restaurant sales increases, though it says restaurant ratings on consumer review platforms, such as Yelp, have been increasing.