Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. will be the sole U.S. distributor of Grolsch beer, a high-end European import.
The move comes as beer sales are flat in the United States, cutting into the profits of Anheuser-Busch, the nation's biggest brewer and maker of the Budweiser, Michelob and Bud Light brands.
Analysts have pushed Anheuser-Busch to enter the high-end import and micro-brew market, which has grown far faster than the traditional golden Pilsner brands for which the St. Louis-based brewer is famous.
"Change is all around in how consumers enjoy our product," Anheuser-Busch President August Busch IV said Tuesday at a news conference announcing the move. "Our company is embracing these changes."
The deal will become effective in January, 2007, and will give Netherlands-based Grolsch access to Anheuser-Busch's national distribution system of 600 beer wholesalers. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but an Anheuser-Busch spokeswoman said Anheuser-Busch will not take any ownership of Grolsch.
Busch said the deal with Grolsch will not be the last of its kind. He said Anheuser-Busch is looking to add a "select" group of import brands to the brewer's portfolio.
Anheuser-Busch stock fell 23 cents to close at $41.27 on the New York Stock Exchange.