It's been about a year and a half since the creation of Anheuser-Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD), and the company's first full calendar year as a merged entity was a tough one. Anheuser spent 2009 cutting costs and addressing debt during the depths of the recession.

The brewmeister's competitors stumbled as well, as most beer companies dealt with declining volumes and falling sales. But in Anheuser's case, price increases helped preserve organic sales growth. Take a look at how the company fared against some of its peers last year:

Company

Market Cap

P/E

Operating Margin

Dividend

CAPS Rating

Anheuser-Busch InBev

$80.2 billion

17.5

27.3%

1.1%

**

Molson/ Coors (NYSE: TAP)

$7.8 billion

10.9

13.3%

2.3%

*****

SABMiller (OTC BB: SBMRY)

$13.0 billion

31.9

18.4%

2.0

N/A

Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM)

$732.6 million

24.3

13.3%

None

****

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; Motley Fool CAPS.

Following its merger, Anheuser increased 2009 sales on a like-for-like basis. That's an impressive feat, even with pricing taken into account. The sheer size of Anheuser gives it a scale advantage, which shows up in its superior margins. However, CAPS players prefer the value of Molson/Coors and the growth potential of Boston Beer. Craft beers performed well during the recession, growing sales by more than 10%, while the overall beer market shrank 2%.

In terms of growth prospects, Anheuser-Busch InBev also offers excellent exposure to Latin American markets, where it fights local players AmBev (NYSE: ABV) and FEMSA (NYSE: FMX).

What's ahead for 2010?
Anheuser CEO Carlos Brito thinks the coming year will be rough, and forecasts no improvement in volume. Indeed, many consumer-product CEOs feel that consumers will focus on value and quality in 2010. Like last year, Anheuser expects to focus on debt repayment, in order to shore up its cash flow for the longer term. Meanwhile, the beer industry will likely see continued M&A activity.

I believe Anheuser's focus on cost savings will ultimately increase its profitability, and possibly its dividend, meaning good things for investors. Anheuser-Busch InBev remains the dominant player in its industry, which will allow it to both weather storms and take advantage of new opportunities. The stock isn't cheap, but should be considered a good, safe bet for the long term.

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Fool contributor Tom Winner does not own shares of any company mentioned in this article. FEMSA and SABMiller are Motley Fool Global Gains recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.