They have been at loggerheads for nearly a century over the rights to the Budweiser trademark. But Anheuser-Busch and Budejovicky Budvar on Monday set aside their unresolved legal dispute to strike what both brewers described as an “historic” alliance.
Under the terms of the deal, Anheuser, America’s largest brewer, will become the US importer of its Czech rival’s Czechvar lager, known in its domestic market as Budweiser Budvar.
“After years of differences, this is a meaningful step for two great brewers to form a relationship that is good for both of our businesses,” said August Busch IV, chief executive of Anheuser and great-great grandson of the company’s German immigrant founder.
Both brewers said the agreement did not affect their ongoing legal battle but Jiri Bocek, chief executive of Budvar, said it marked a “historical turning point” in their relationship.
“We have managed to move away from discussions between lawyers and towards a practical dialogue,” he said.
Anheuser and Budvar are engaged in dozens of lawsuits around the world over use of the Budweiser brand, which both companies claim as their own.
The US brewer was first to register the trademark in 1878 but the name is derived from Budweis, the German name for the Czech brewer’s home city of Ceske Budejovice.
For Budvar, the deal will transform its prospects in the US by giving it access to the country’s strongest distribution and marketing network.
For Anheuser, the agreement will strengthen its portfolio of premium import brands at a time when US beer drinkers are abandoning mainstream domestic brands in favour of more adventurous choices.
In November, Anheuser announced a pact with InBev, the Belgium-based brewer, to become the US importer of Stella Artois, Beck’s and several other European brands.
The deals with InBev, one of Anheuser’s biggest international rivals, and Budvar, its bitterest foe, reflect the willingness of Mr Busch, who was appointed chief executive last year, to consider bold and imaginative solutions to the slowdown in US beer sales. He has also talked about the possibility of expanding into wine and spirits.