AB InBev isn’t so keen on SAB Miller’s premium beer selection, apparently. If and when the world’s biggest brewer completes its acquisition of the second biggest, it says it will sell its Peroni, Grolsch and Meantime brands. This comes only seven months after SAB bought the Greenwich-based craft brewer, which is likely to leave a bitter taste in quite a few mouths.
By the tone of his statement to the stock exchange, SAB Miller boss Alan Clark is one of them. ‘These beers are loved by consumers and we are very proud of them. Until the change of control we will continue to invest in growing these great beers and supporting our talented people who brew, sell and manage them,’ he said.
It may seem an odd move, given the backlash against mass market brews (BrewDog founder James Watt gave us his take on them here) and the growing popularity of craft beers. But AB InBev doesn’t have consumers in mind with this one.
It’s trying to ward off those pesky regulators, who could still scupper the £71bn takeover, and has already agreed to sell SAB Miller’s stake in its MillerCoors joint venture to Molson Coors for precisely the same reason.
The combined firm would still control more than a quarter of the world’s beer market, but so long as it’s not overly dominant in any one sector in any one region, it should pass the test. The question is, will getting rid of Peroni, Grolsch and Meantime be enough for the European Commission? Watch this space.
It also raises an interesting question over who will buy the premium brands, particularly Meantime. The mega-merger may have created an opportunity for rivals like Heineken and Carlsberg to get in on the craft beer action as SAB Miller did, but for a discount. It’s hard to fetch a good price if you’re obliged to sell, after all.
On the other hand, Meantime could just get swallowed up by a private equity firm, which would no doubt appease craft beer purists more than if it fell into the hands of another mass market producer. Mine’s a pint of Tartarus Capital Partners' best please.