The Road to Brandweek: AB InBev’s Pedro Earp on How Innovation Drives Everything

His global leadership revolves around future-proofing the beverage giant

pedro earp next to a line of AB InBev products
Earp started his role as CMO in July 2018. AB InBev
Headshot of Ann-Marie Alcántara

In just four years, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s innovation arm ZX Ventures brought in $1 billion in sales. Led by Pedro Earp, global chief marketing officer of AB InBev, the team is bringing the beverage giant into a future where it wants to be known for more than beers.

With partnerships with craft brewers around the world and placing bets on other alcohols—AB InBev recently acquired Babe Wine—Earp is rethinking what a beer giant can look like.

“We are restlessly committed to bringing people together by building a portfolio of brands that people love,” he said.

Hear more from Earp at this year’s Brandweek summit in Palm Springs, Calif., from Nov. 3-6 and find out why he’s betting on disruption and innovation.

The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.

How do you navigate AB InBev’s marketing and advertising in an age of rapid consumer feedback?
We are relentlessly committed to bringing people together by building a portfolio of brands that people love. We do this through deep consumer understanding anchored in data and empathy, purposeful brands that impact people’s lives, and harnessing new connection models that inspire brand affinity. We have defined key areas where new technologies will help us drive increased sales uplift, efficiencies and simplification. We’re changing the ways we interact with people with content that is authentic and contextualized.

What’s the biggest buzzword in the industry today and how is AB InBev preparing for it?
Disruption. Data, technology and innovation bring us closer to consumers around the world and help us drive business growth. Innovation drives not only our commercial strategy at AB InBev but also our supply chain, processes for supporting our colleagues and recruiting future talent.

We are driving innovation in all of our primary business functions by creating special teams and leveraging the unique talent our people bring to the table. For example, we created ZX Ventures in 2015 to nurture, support and grow the products and services of tomorrow. Now with over 1,500 people, our global growth and innovation group brings us closer to consumers around the world.

Name one important thing about AB InBev that you wish more consumers knew.
We are a company of brewers who take so much pride in what we do. As a global brewer, we have approximately 170,000 colleagues around the world, with operations in nearly 50 countries. We recruit, develop and retain the best people because we know our people are our greatest strength.

Our early leadership opportunities motivate our people to deliver results. I’ve been with the company for two decades and have personally experienced just how much we empower and challenge our colleagues. In my tenure I’ve led many teams from M&A, Insights and Innovation, ZX Ventures and now adding Global Marketing. We encourage everyone to harness a learning mindset so that we can continue to develop new skills and solutions.

ZX Ventures, which you still run, is a big part of your job. What’s next for the venture arm, and how do you navigate chasing a trend vs. developing a product to chase that trend?
We harness creativity, new ideas and the entrepreneurial mindset of a successful startup and combine it with the resources and optimization of a leading global company. We can create and scale great ideas and great beers fast to bring consumers more of what they love.

ZX isn’t focused on chasing trends—we focus on consumer problems and finding new, innovation solutions. We’re focused on finding the new big thing before it becomes a thing. For example, we partnered with Kombrewcha back in 2016, well before hard kombuchas were even a well-defined category. One of our biggest internal drivers for organic ventures is our Zxlerator program, but we recognize that we don’t have all the answers or expertise and are always interested in partnering with best-in-class founders and entrepreneurs. 

@itstheannmarie Ann-Marie Alcántara is a tech reporter for Adweek, focusing on direct-to-consumer brands and ecommerce.