The phrase “everyday heroes” rightfully describes those stepping up to help during the pandemic. We’ve proudly shared the stories of our people who rose to the challenge and worked tirelessly to make a difference over the past year. Today we hear from Vanessa, Ashwin and Susannah, everyday heroes whose teams responded without hesitation to calls for help from local farmers, pharmacists and fans of beer.

A dire shortage, a rapid response
Vanessa Valles, Research Pilot Brewery Manager
Leuven, Belgium

I’m a Belgian at heart. I’ve lived here all my life and grew up just 75 kilometers from where I work – the Research Pilot Brewery (RPB), part of the AB InBev Global Innovation and Technology Center in Leuven.

I’ve spent nearly 18 years with the company, but none were like 2020. Typically, my team helps to develop new beers, non- and low-alcohol beers, seltzers and other beverages. The RPB is a place where most anything is possible; we have a brewhouse, filtration, blending and saturation capabilities, a dealcoholizing and distillation unit, and several packaging lines. We love to experiment and are always up for a challenge! So, we didn’t hesitate when our hometown was experiencing a shortage of hand sanitizers for front-line workers.

Vanessa Valles and the Research Pilot Brewery team in Leuven, Belgium (April 2020)

Ethanol is a primary ingredient in hand sanitizers and disinfectants, but it is also a by-product of our non-alcoholic beer production. So, the idea arose to purify the ethanol byproduct to a level that would make it suitable for hand sanitizers. The team looked into all requirements and optimized in a few days the distillation process to produce ethanol to the exact specifications put forward by government regulators. As ethanol is a very flammable product, we joined forces with the brewery safety team to work out all protocols for the safe production, packaging and transport of ethanol. In six weeks we produced 2,500 liters of 97% ethanol.

It was with great pleasure that our team also set up a collection point in front of the brewery to distribute free ethanol to local pharmacists who would convert it into hand sanitizers for local hospitals, homes for the elderly and physician offices. I will never forget the grateful reactions from the pharmacists and how good it felt to contribute to our community in a time of crisis.

Standing by our family-run farms
Ashwin Kak, Head of Procurement and Sustainability - India and South East Asia
Bangalore, India

The timing of the first pandemic shutdowns couldn’t have been worse for our smallholder barley farmers in India. It was late March, right before the harvest, leaving them unable to prepare and sell their crops. Despite the uncertainty, my front-line team - Inesh Singh, Manoj Kumar, Shanker Yadav and their field officers and agronomists - stood with our farmers, who trusted us to do the right things to protect them and their mostly family-run businesses. This motivated us even more to go above and beyond to have a successful season and fulfill our commitments to them.

Normally my team helps the farmers by providing access to high quality seeds, sharing agronomic advice and tools to improve their crops, with the goal of helping them become more skilled, connected and financially empowered. The lockdowns limited our in-person visits, so we started using SMS messaging more to communicate how to safely store their barley until it could be sold. We distributed sanitizers and masks, had ‘gunny bags’ delivered to those who didn’t have storage buildings on their farms and sent harvesting equipment to assist farmers facing pandemic-related labor shortages.

Ashwin Kak

When restrictions eased and agronomic activity was allowed again, we developed a staggered procurement plan so farmers could safely deliver their barley to us. I’m especially proud that we stood firm on our price commitments, insulating our farmers from the impact of market fluctuations and providing them with needed financial security.

And our team didn’t stop there. Throughout 2020 and now we continue to help our farmers build thriving businesses, with new soil testing initiatives, expert training on barley cultivation and resource-efficient farming, and a program to upskill and develop more women in farming.

Delivering more than expected
Susannah Shearman, Customer Care Manager - InterDrinks
Fretin, France

I’m proud to lead a diverse group of French, Italian, Dutch, Swedish, English, Spanish and German speakers who manage customer service for the InterDrinks e-store, part of ZX Ventures. We’re here to handle requests and resolve issues for our customers throughout Europe, and we’re also an essential link to the transporters and other partners who make our beer delivery services possible.

As you can imagine, the pandemic and nationwide shutdowns changed everything for us. Demand increased dramatically and we experienced disruptions unlike any we had experienced before. What didn’t change was our desire to keep our customers happy and to do what was necessary to be as responsive as possible under unpredictable circumstances. What we delivered was an epic response time – going from an average of 32 hours to 8 hours – and a greatly improved experience for our customers.

Susannah Shearman, Customer Care Manager - InterDrinks

The shift happened because our team was willing to change when, where and how we worked. We amped up our use of text messaging to customers and introduced more proactive communications to keep people informed about their deliveries, and developed self-serve tools, like frequently asked questions, to help.

Through it all we also became closer as a team. Our virtual tea and coffee Zoom sessions became a new routine that led to better collaboration. By the end of 2020, we couldn’t have been better prepared for the big holiday rush and I’m proud to say we broke many of our records, performing better than we could have expected one year ago. Our net promoter score (NPS), a key measurement of customer satisfaction, even went up by six points. To that we say, “Bring it on 2021!”