Truth or lie? AB-InBev may brew Corona Extra in Germany
Germany | How could a fairly vapid German industry rumour suddenly become a hot topic for a Russian trade publication - unless Russia’s hybrid warfare now includes spreading half-truths about beer and brewers?
The Russian website profibeer.ru reported on 29 November that AB-InBev is planning to brew the Mexican beer brand Corona Extra in Germany.
If permission is granted, the Russians say, Corona Extra will be produced at the Hasseröder brewery in Wernigerode and will be transported to the Beck’s plant in Bremen, some 250 km away, where it will be filtered and bottled.
The initial target is 200,000 hl per year. At the second stage, production will be completely localised in Wernigerode and the volume will rise to 400,000 hl per year.
In 2021, AB-InBev sold more than 200,000 hl of imported Corona beer in Germany, according to Inside, a German trade publication.
When approached by Brauwelt International about the veracity of the Russian article, AB-InBev Germany commented on 1 December that it is assessing all options with a view to providing sustainable logistics.
In fact, AB-InBev’s response is intentionally vague: it neither denied nor confirmed the Russian article.
The Russians’ scoop is more interesting for its timing than for its content. It appeared on the same day a union (NGG), which represents some of Hasseröder’s 200 workers, called for strike action after two rounds of wage negotiations had fallen through. A third round in December also collapsed. The union is asking for a pay rise of 6 percent. Negotiations will resume on 25 January, NGG said.
The Russian story raises several pertinent questions: Why did the Russians have the rumour at all? And what is the point of it all?
The fact that it was a well-known Russian beer industry website, profibeer, which focuses on the central and eastern European beer markets and, to our knowledge, has never extensively covered Germany before, points to a political motive.
After all, who could have leaked the story to profibeer? It does not seem likely that there is a mole at Anadolu Efes, AB-InBev’s partner in Russia. Why should Efes gossip about AB-InBev’s strategic games in Germany? What would they gain? Alternatively, someone at AB-InBev itself could have leaked the plan to the Russians, which would create an interesting problem for AB-InBev.
A heyday for conspiracy theories
Of course, all of this is pure speculation. And that is the whole point. The Russian article is a well-placed rumour, intended to sow confusion and distrust.
Therefore, the Russian article could serve as a prime example as to how Russian online warfare works. It takes “active measures” to harm, confuse, frighten, enfeeble, and not least divide its targets, be they nation states or global industries.
Although the rumour has a kernel of truth – AB-InBev has localised the production of Corona Extra in China, Brazil, Colombia, Belgium, and the UK since 2019 – it does not seem plausible that AB-InBev will put Germany on that list too.
Currently, the Corona Extra beers found on Munich supermarket shelves are imported from Belgium. That is what the label says. In terms of logistics and costs, it should not make much of a difference if Corona Extra for Germany is brewed in Belgium or eventually in Wernigerode.
Forcing AB-InBev’s hand
However, it would make a great difference to the Hasseröder brewery’s staff. They are fighting for their jobs and livelihoods in an economically disadvantaged region. They will have greedily lapped up the rumour at a time when they are about to go on strike.
Alas, the plant is tired and currently heavily underutilised. If AB-InBev were serious about localising the production of Corona Extra at Hasseröder, the initial investment would be negligible. But a long-term investment plan would need to follow. Why should AB-InBev splash out big money on the Hasseröder plant if it can brew Corona at the Beck’s brewery in Bremen at almost no extra cost?
The rumour really does not make sense. But, at least, it has kept AB-InBev’s PR people busy for a few days. Nevertheless, if the Russian “leak” manages to render negotiations between AB-InBev and its Hasseröder staff more acrimonious, it will have achieved its aim.
(This article was updated on 20 December 2022)