Independent brewers optimistic as Asahi drops $16 billion on Carlton Draught owner


Independent brewers are optimistic the $16 billion sale of Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) to Japanese giant Asahi will further accelerate growing demand for Australian-owned beer.

Announced on Friday evening, Belgian multinational AB InBev has agreed to sell CUB — the owner of prominent Australian beer brands such as Carlton Draught, Pure Blonde and Victorian Bitter — to Japanese-owned Asahi, in a deal which will require approval from the ACCC.

It comes as large breweries wrestle with flatlining beer sales in Australia, as consumers trend towards higher-quality products and away from the alcohol market altogether.

CUB serves about 40% of the Australian market, while James Squire owner Lion (itself owned by Japanese brewing giant Kirin Holdings) controls about 50%, leaving the remainder for independents.

The ACCC will now consider how the multi-billion-dollar sale will change the competitive landscape in Australia, but independent breweries on Monday weren’t breaking out in a sweat.

Jamie Cook, co-founder of Stone & Wood brewing company and chair of the Independent Brewers Association (IBA), doesn’t expect Asahi’s investment in the Australian market will slow the roll of current market trends.

“It will add fuel to the fire,” Cook tells SmartCompany.

“All this deal is going to do is reinforce to people that these big brands are just the playthings of international corporates.”

While the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows Aussies consumed 2.6 million fewer litres of beer in 2016-17 than the year before, IBISWorld data indicates craft beer has bucked the trend, growing an annualised 8.7% in the five years to 2019.

Cook says Asahi, similarly to Kirin-owned Lion, will take a longer-term approach to the Australian market, which is likely to make them a more serious competitor than Belgian AB InBev.

“[Asahi] has more runs on the board as a traditional brewer and will certainly take a longer-term view,” he says.

In the short term though, Cook expects independents will have an opportunity to seize.

“It’s a bit of a case of the other guy blinking — they’ll certainly be distracted by people looking over their shoulder about who will have a job in 18 months.”

Benjamin Cairns, co-founder of independent East 9th Brewery, which only earlier this month purchased SAMPLE brewing from the administration, says it’s difficult to say what the effect will be on the market, but is interested to see how retail pricing may change.

“It’ll be interesting to see how the on-premise market reacts with contractual obligations in place in venues across the country, and the retail pricing strategies that will flow into the market in the lead up to any portfolio changes that may take place,” he tells SmartCompany.

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