The world’s largest brewing company, Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, announced this month it is considering a takeover of rival SABMiller plc and has approached the company about this possibility. No bid or offer has been made. The combined company would have a value of approximately $275 billion and would produce about one-third of the world’s beer supply, according to Reuters.
Headquartered in London, SABMiller (the world’s second-largest brewer) traces its roots to the South African gold rush of 1886. It became a leader in southern Africa by building on strategic acquisitions before turning its attention to international markets in the 1990s. In 2002, SAB acquired the Miller Brewing Company and now produces more than 200 beers, including popular brands such as Miller, Peroni, Milwaukee’s Best and Grolsch, in over 80 countries.
According to the Associated Press, AB InBev—with products including Budweiser, Corona and Beck’s—seeks expansion into more countries and believes SABMiller can provide it a doorway into the growing African beer market.
Last year, Heineken N.V., the world’s third-largest brewer, rejected an acquisition offer from SABMiller. Heineken said it consulted its majority shareholders and concluded a deal with SABMiller was not in the best interest of the company.
Major brewers like AB InBev and SABMiller are looking for new opportunities to build in markets outside the US and Europe where business has weakened in recent years due to more consumers turning to craft beer. In the US, craft beer continues to outperform the overall beer market and now represents 11 percent of total volume.
But beverage giants are not standing idly by as the market shifts toward more niche craft beer options; they are strategically investing in the craft beer market to bolster their presence in the premium beer category. In just the past month, Heineken purchased a 50 percent stake in California-based Lagunitas Brewing Company, while MillerCoors—a joint venture between beverage companies SABMiller and Molson Coors Brewing Company—added Saint Archer Brewing Company to its Tenth and Black craft and import division.
Last week, Anheuser-Busch announced it will acquire Los Angeles-based Golden Road Brewing craft brewery and brew pub, which will join Goose Island Beer Company, Blue Point Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing and Elysian Brewing as part of Anheuser-Busch’s high-end business unit’s portfolio. Anheuser-Busch’s partnership with Golden Road Brewing is expected to close by year’s end.
Kyle Leingang, an attorney at the international law firm Dorsey & Whitney, regularly advises clients on merger and acquisition transactions in the beer, wine and spirits industry. He calls AB InBev’s acquisition strategy particularly aggressive over the past year.
AB InBev’s acquisition of Golden Road gives it major—formerly craft—breweries in the Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago areas. The company’s recent acquisition activity also includes Virtue Cider from Michigan. “The announcement comes as Golden Road is about to open an Anaheim brewery, giving AB InBev ownership of its first brewery in Orange County,” Leingang says. “The deal also comes fresh off the heels of MillerCoors’ acquisition of Saint Archer, its only US acquisition during thus far this year. Both these southern California acquisitions have interesting similarities, as each brewery has been in operation for less than four years and primarily distributes beer in 16-oz. cans, with significant distribution to local sports venues.”