Independent brewer Tribe acquires Mornington Brewery as craft brewers veer away from big industry players

independent brewer

Anton Szpitalak and Matt Bebe. Source: Supplied.

Local independent brewer Tribe has acquired fellow independent brewhouse Mornington Peninsula Brewery, with small Australian brewers striving to stay independent in the face of large industry buy-outs.

Mornington Brewery was established 10 years ago by co-founder and chief executive Matt Bebe, who tells SmartCompany the small brewer had been wrestling with the challenge of having over 20 shareholders since inception. He says over the past few years a large stake of shareholders had started to voice a desire to sell their shares, so the business began to explore its options.

At the same time, while the brewery was seeing success, the brewing location had been “maxed out”, and while demand was there, the founders couldn’t afford to open another brewing location to continue to expand the business.

Putting their feelers out, Bebe and his co-founders entered discussions with independent brewer Tribe, who ended up agreeing to acquire 100% of Mornington Brewery shares, with Bebe staying on as Mornington’s chief executive and his shares being rolled into Tribe’s.

“The benefits for us are huge in terms of procurement, distribution and synergies that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. We as a group can now really engage at an independent beer level, and really start a bit of advocacy for better beer across Australia,” he says.

“You don’t really get to do that as a small brewery, and we can also benefit from a lot of efficiencies that come with scale. I only see this as a win-win.”

Craft brewer veering away from the big dogs

Mornington’s fans are also seeing the acquisition as a win-win — something that was a big focus of Bebe’s throughout the process. Craft beer fans in Australia have been notoriously disproving of partnerships and acquisitions of independent brewers by bigger players, such as IPA brewer Pirate Life being bought by Carlton United Breweries, and AB InBev acquiring Sydney brewer 4 Pines.

Industry watchers and fans have largely eschewed these sorts of transactions thanks to the beers no longer being “independent”, with some saying it has led to a drop in the quality of the beer.

Bebe says he wouldn’t have done the transaction if the partner wasn’t also an independent brewer, and notes Mornington was approached by a number of non-independent parties interested in acquiring the brand. Asked if the exit price would have been more lucrative if he had gone with a non-independent company, Bebe says he doesn’t believe it would have.

“When we started 10 years ago, our ethos has always been independent, and that’s why Tribe was the right fit for us. Not only are they independent and help us build out our brand portfolio, but they’ve given us an option to keep expanding,” he says.

“This is a whole new concept in Australia, and it’s fast becoming a new option for independent brewers to keep expanding.”

In a statement, co-founder and chief executive of Tribe said the partnership with Mornington would help the company further its aspiration to be Australia’s number one independent brewer.

“Mornington fits perfectly into that vision and with the brewery joining the tribe we take a big step forward on our journey. Mornington is brewing great beers that we know well having brewed some in the past and the team has incredible alignment, we couldn’t ask for more from a new member of the family,” he said.

NOW READ: ACCC report dismisses claims craft brewers are being locked out of pubs, but Anthony Albanese says consumers are “voting with their schooner glass”

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