While many ultra-fast delivery companies are swamping consumers with cross-category deals from Skittles to Skims, Zé Delivery proves less can be more.
Anheuser-Busch InBev’s DTC service says it’s Latin America’s largest alcohol and beverage delivery platform, getting ice-cold packs of its brands — like Budweiser and Brahma — to consumers’ doors in 30 minutes or less.
- It was born out of the beer giant’s venture arm, ZX Ventures, in 2016, back then before the alcohol and food delivery boom, noted Guilherme Lebelson, AB InBev’s global VP of direct-to-consumer.
Since the delivery of beverages was “difficult to carry out” as the products were heavy and bulky, he noted, and margins for shipping were tight (particularly cold), a solution was sought.
“We felt that somehow we needed to get ahead and push ourselves and try to do things that might take other retailers longer to do,” Lebelson told Retail Brew.
Poured into a bottle
AB InBev optimized Zé Delivery in Brazil until 2019, when business really took off and reached 1.6 million orders. Then, of course, the pandemic gave the business a boost. In 2021, orders were coming in 5 million monthly, for a total of 61 million, Lebelson said. That’s when the company knew it was time to expand.
- Zé Delivery is now in 300 Brazilian cities and reaches over 50 million people in 10 other countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico.
“As this is no longer an experiment, we see that we can do this in a profitable way, to have that direct relationship with consumers, to understand their needs, to have the data on what they prefer, so we can optimize everything and can repeat the time,” said Lebelson.
- AB InBev’s DTC-E-Comm platforms saw revenue grow 62% to reach around $500 million last year, though the company declined to disclose financial numbers for Zé Delivery.
Lebelson admitted that AB InBev initially “feared” that Zé Delivery would not be able to compete with multi-category retailers like Amazon. However, while several fast delivery companies have seen losses In recent months, Zé’s Bev focus has been a driving force behind his success.
“The big takeaway was that this is a problem that nobody else is solving in the way consumers want,” Lebelson said.
Being a beer seller itself, AB InBev does not need to charge consumers any fee from POS partners or couriers. “We are there to help the consumer sell our products, rather than deriving any economic benefit from the supply chain.”
Self-made: Why is there no such thing in the USA? It’s not that easy in the US, Lebelson explained. There is a three tier system for alcohol sellers to distribute their products: breweries must sell to wholesalers who sell to retailers and then to consumers.
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- Fast-delivery companies like GoPuff have become retailers themselves, obtaining liquor licenses in every state they operate in, Lebelson noted.
While Lebelson said this meant AB InBev could “not do much” regarding DTC, his strategy in the US was to work “very closely” with alcohol delivery channels like Drizly.
But the US plays a notable role in Zé’s deal. The beer giant uses the service to track US consumer trends in other regions to see how they’re performing, it noted.
- In the midst of the beginning hard seltzer craze in the US, AB InBev tested the international appeal of the products in Brazil. (Although Latin America has not experienced a boom similar to that of the US, the subcategory is gradually growing there.)
Consumer crack: It has also learned lessons about consumer behavior and requirements in Latin America, such as B. the evolving possibility of using his service. When Zé started, Lebelson said that “bailouts” (meaning running out of beer at a party) accounted for about 70% to 80% of sales. Now that same percentage is turning to Zé just to stock up their fridges.
“If you think about it, it’s what Uber has done for commuting or for driving. I sold my car in 2015. I have never bought a car again because I know I can count on Uber. What you’re seeing is that people are changing the way they iterate with category in supermarkets,” Lebelson explained. “So as opposed to ‘Hey, I’m going to the grocery store. I buy everything I need for my supermarket shopping list. I know I can cross beer off that list because I know there is a solution that will serve me in the right way.”
- AB InBev is also using consumer insights to inform packaging updates with sizes beyond the traditional 12 and 24 packs. Also, brands use Zé to test volume, how much red lager or double malt it should produce, or what hard seltzer flavors they should offer.
“This whole concept of you having to spend months doing consumer research, blind testing and all that, you can just skip when you have that direct connection,” Lebelson said.