Anheuser-Busch InBev plans to cut around 10% of its workforce in Western Europe, to reflect falling demand for beer in the region.

Anheuser-Busch InBev is likely to cut around 800 jobs from a Western Europe workforce of 8,000, a spokesperson for the brewer confirmed to just-drinks today (8 January).

Meetings with employees' representatives were held yesterday in several countries, including in Belgium where 263 jobs - around 10% of the local workforce - are set to be cut.

An A-B InBev spokesperson added today that the group plans to cease brewing operations in Luxembourg, with volumes transferred to its Belgium-based breweries. Job cuts are also likely in other countries in which A-B InBev operates, such as UK and Germany.

Consumer demand for beer across Western Europe has fallen consistently in recent years and A-B InBev said that it needs to streamline its sales operations to reflect the situation.

"It is important to understand the reality," the spokesperson said. "We are faced with the same kind of challenge in these countries, namely structural decline in beer markets for a quite a few years now."

A handful of workers took two managers hostage at the Jupiler brewery in Belgium upon hearing the news yesterday. The managers were released in the early hours of this morning. A-B InBev told just-drinks that the incident is "regrettable".

Consultation with trade unions is set to begin across Western Europe on the job cuts.

"We're going to sit at the table try to find as many alternative solutions as we can," said the A-B InBev spokesperson.

She added that the move does not only reflect falling demand for beer, but also that Western European consumers are "drinking differently" and A-B InBev needs to have "the right commercial focus".

Belgian consumers, for example, are drinking a more diverse range of premium beers in lower quantities, which means brewers must be "more flexible" to adapt to demand, said the group. 

In Belgium, where A-B InBev retains its global headquarters, per capita beer consumption fell by around a fifth, from 99 litres to 82 litres, between 2000 and 2008. 

A-B InBev volume sales in Belgium slipped by nearly 2% in the first nine months of 2009, compared to the same period of 2008.