Gabriel Mello, Global VP of Specialty Sales, defines how ZX Ventures measures success and which qualities the team looks for in potential candidates.
Etkin Tekin, Global Manager of Specialties and Innovation, talks to us about one of the most engaging aspects of his job: The Educational Happy Hour.
What’s the main purpose behind the educational happy hour?
Working for AB InBev and ZX Ventures requires a solid base of knowledge about beer to effectively promote our business. That means we need to speak the language of beer! So, one of our constant goals is to enhance the education of our team.
We have an ongoing educational program to ensure that all our employees have the knowledge and tools they need. We want to convey a consistent, accurate message as beer ambassadors, which means having a standard vocabulary and complete understanding of beer flavors and styles. The Specialties team at ZX Ventures has the amazing privilege of heading up that effort, and one of our favorite methods is an instructive happy hour.
What is the structure of these events?
Our happy hours begin with a short lecture. We walk our participants through a few technical aspects of the beers we’re describing, explaining the key flavors and characteristics they should notice. For example, one of our classes focused on the difference between ales and lagers. These styles are distinguished by the different major yeast strains used, with each producing a distinct beer with qualities typical of that style. Another recent class compared a pale ale with a German pilsner.
After the discussion comes the tasting. Once we’ve given everyone some context regarding what they’re about to try, we put their palates to the test. We provide beers for blind tastings and ask our attendees to describe what they experience; what they can taste, smell, and feel for each beer, as well as their overall impressions. It’s also an opportunity to see how well people can articulate a beer’s characteristics, which is a valuable skill for us to have.
Can you give us an example of a comparison that might come up at an educational happy hour?
Some of our comparisons are quite sophisticated. Take our last happy hour, where we discussed Belgian golden ales. We provided three examples, including our own Leffe Blonde, for tasting. We often do these blind tastings to compare our portfolio of beers to other major brands. For example, we provided our Goose IPA along with two other brands to see how many people could differentiate those and recognize our beer! We also ask which beer everyone prefers and why.One important note about our happy hours is that we work with real market conditions to give our team relevant context for our portfolio. We get the beer for our tastings from a retail store, so we get what’s on the shelf. Sometimes we find that beers have been on the shelf too long or haven’t been stored well. It gives us a real-world market context, reminding us that there are limits to what we can control in producing beer. These happy hours are an opportunity for us to see what’s actually being sold and identify what we can do better.
Gabriel's professional journey has led to him working at various businesses in countries all across the world. In these videos, he tells the story of how he started working at Zx Ventures and shares his perspective on managing sustainable growth in the specialties market.
With summer heating up in the Northern Hemisphere, we sat down with Innovation Brewer Thomas Hartman to talk about the beer trends we can expect to see this season. Here’s what he had to say!
More Session and Sessionable Beers, Especially IPAs
The trend of making IPAs ever hoppier seems to have slowed, with the pendulum swinging back toward more mellow, drinkable session beers. In a session beer, brewers try to maintain the balance and flavor of an existing beer style while reducing the ABV (usually to about 4% or below). In addition to packing less of an intoxicating punch, sessions tend to be mellow in flavor. These are beers you can drink all afternoon.
It’s important to think about session beers as more than just watered-down versions of other styles though! A good session IPA, for example, is formulated with an eye toward specialty malts, mash formulations, and hop profiles that result in a less-overwhelming flavor, less bitterness, and a lower ABV while providing a distinct flavor that you’ll want to drink all afternoon. Look also for fruit flavors in some of these sessions and sessionable brews.
More Accessible Sour Beers
Just as the pendulum has swung away from outrageously hoppy, 110-IBU IPAs, the extremes of sour beers are receding in favor of a more accessible drink. The craft beer market is typically American: when we do something new, we start out really big! Early sours were mouth puckering, eye watering, and sometimes barely drinkable. Today both sour fermented and kettle sour beers are being developed in lower acidity, lower ABV versions. Blending with fruits, such as passionfruit, to balance sweetness with sourness is also a welcome development. Kettle sour beers, where the acidity is the byproduct of bacterial fermentation, are harder to control, but here too brewers are improving balance while maintaining the refreshing zing of these quintessentially summery beers.
More Local Ingredients and Local Variants
With the trend toward eating and buying local in other industries, it’s no surprise that beer drinkers are looking to drink local too. Small hop farms are popping up all over, with producers working to distinguish themselves with different and novel hop varieties. Both Michigan and upstate New York have vibrant hop-grower societies with an intense demand for their locally grown hops. The same is true of small malthouses providing locally sourced malts and other ingredients. Wine drinkers have known for years that the flavor of wines depends on where their ingredients are grown. Wine made from Malbec grapes grown in Chile is completely different from wine made with those same grapes grown in France. Similarly, Cascade hops grown in Yakima, Michigan, and Germany have distinct flavors and qualities. Expect to see more local ingredients and more regional specialties. The cloudy or hazy IPAs that are being perfected in New England are one delightful example of this regional specialization.
Non-Beer or “Near Beer” Options
With the uptick in local brewpubs and breweries as popular gathering places, there’s a growing demand for non-beer options for those who haven’t yet embraced traditional beer styles. This summer, look for more radlers: a 50/50 mix of beer and fruit juice or soda, generally light and crisp in flavor and only 2 to 3% alcohol. Some breweries are also developing malt-based “near beer” beverages, processing traditional wort in new ways to create drinks that appeal to a non-beer crowd.
Guilherme Lebelson, Global VP of eCommerce, and Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, discuss their favorite aspects of the company culture at ZX Ventures and how these facets enable success.
By Luke Cherrington
We recently kicked off our second ZX Ventures Zxlerator in the heart of NYC. We have an amazing cohort of 50 (!) intrapreneurs and summer interns tackling 14 huge challenges. This is all driven by a key question, “How do you start new companies inside a large organization?” Let’s discuss.
Zxlerator is the internal accelerator program of ZX Ventures and AB InBev. We think we’ve built something unique. Accelerator programs tend to be run by investment vehicles with external, existing startups. Think Techstars, Angelpad, YCombinator, etc. They take an early stage company and give support, mentorship and investment to make it grow faster (i.e. “accelerate” it). We’ve built on this concept. Using Zxlerator, we take internally-generated ideas and put them through a structured three-month program to see if they can develop into validated, launch-ready businesses.
During the program, existing employees and summer interns work together to identify a real problem, validate a solution, and build a viable business model. Basically, they start a business. These ventures are early stage – often starting from just an idea – so we start out with an intensive two-week boot camp. This is a crash course in how to start a company. During boot camp you’ll hear phrases any experienced entrepreneur would recognize. Build, measure, learn. Desirability, viability and feasibility. Experiment, experiment, experiment. Now that we’re into the core program, teams have a slew of internal and external mentors to call on, and programming designed to help them leverage our core business. We’ll wrap the program with Demo Day, and make final decisions on which ventures we’ll fund.
The ventures in Zxlerator, first and foremost, are solving real problems for real people. We’re not looking for incremental innovations to existing products or processes within our business. Our core innovation team can (and does) crush that type of innovation. We’re focused on new problems that have yet to be addressed. We also expect teams to adapt and pivot from their initial thesis. Testing, learning, and potentially changing course if they find a more important problem to solve. It’s agile innovation.
So why did we create Zxlerator? Simply put, we needed it. If you’re going to fail (most new product innovations do), better fail fast and fail cheap. Learn, adapt, and try again. This isn’t exclusive to AB InBev. All companies are quickly understanding it’s critical to add this new methodology to time-tested innovation. Exploring, validating and launching new ventures on the pillars of lean and design thinking. It’s also imperative internal intrapreneurs are given a vehicle to build inside their company. Zxlerator is our vehicle.
And it really is all about the people. Whether for interns or longtime employees, Zxlerator offers the experience of an entrepreneur with the support and resources of a global company. From the very first day of the program, they are treated as founders who own a business – and are expected to demonstrate the ownership and urgency worthy of the title.
We have every confidence this summer’s cohort is going to absolutely rock it and build investment-ready businesses. It is an experience unlike any other – transformative for both our participants and our company – and we couldn’t be more excited to see where the teams land.
René Paula explores his background and discusses how he came to be the Global VP of Legal at ZX Ventures.
René Paula, Global VP of Legal, and Jerome Pellaud, Global VP of Specialties, unpack their experiences by discussing what they wish they knew at the start of their careers.