Asia Life

Japan’s Asahi Spends $7.8 Billion, Moving into Eastern European Beer Market

AB InBev and SABMiller have sold a host of brands to make way for their merging, and Japan’s Asahi seeks to profit.

Catherine Putz
Japan’s Asahi Spends $7.8 Billion, Moving into Eastern European Beer Market
Credit: pittaya / Flickr

Despite the craft beer craze across the United States, the beer business is still dominated by big business; and Asian companies are making their moves to gain a foothold in the international trade while the industry’s giants shuffle their holdings to appease regulators.

Tokyo-based Asahi Breweries, which already holds a 38 percent share of the Japanese beer market is making global moves with the recent acquisition of a range of central and eastern European beer brands. The purchases set Asahi up to capitalize on some of the largest existing beer-guzzling markets.

The companies bought by Asahi for $7.8 billion are brands that Anheuser-Busch InBev agreed to sell-off when it took over its rival SABMiller in a $100 billion buyout finalized in October. Asahi will pick up Pilsner Urquell (Czech Republic), Tyskie and Lech (Poland), Dreher (Hungary), Ursus (Romania). Asahi previously bought up former SABMiller brands Peroni and Grolsch for $2.9 billion. Both sets of acquisitions were prompted by AB InBev and SABMiller’s need to appease regulators wary of the pending merger of two of the world’s beer giants.

The merger, according to the Wall Street Journal, gives AB InBev control of an estimated 46 percent of global beer profits and 27 percent of global volume. It also diversifies AB InBev’s holdings, as SABMiller had considerable international brands under its umbrella.

Asia’s relationship with beer is full of interesting contradictions. Based on 2010 WHO data published in 2014, only four Asian countries break into the top 50 in terms of total alcohol consumption: Russia (4th), South Korea (17), New Zealand (31), and Kazakhstan (39). Japan comes in at 71st and China at 89th. But when the data is sorted by consumption type, beer reigns for a much larger number of Asian states and more importantly, Asia has some of the largest possible consumption markets and has been driving continue global growth in beer consumption.

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As I noted in 2015:

According to the 2014 annual Kirin Beer University Report (Kirin is a Japanese beverage giant–its namesake available globally) worldwide beer consumption rose .5 percent in 2013, the 28th year of consecutive growth. Asia, however, consumed 4.8 percent more beer in 2013 than it did in 2012 and holds 34.8 percent of the global beer market. China, alone, holds a 24 percent share of the market, double that of the United States.

The world’s top-selling beer is Snow, which is sold almost exclusively in China, and other Chinese brands, like Tsingtao, Yanjing, and Harbin, also break into the top 10. Snow had previously been produced via a joint venture between SABMiller and China Resources Enterprises — but SABMiller sold its stake to the Chinese company for $1.6 billion. China Resources submitted a bid to buy AB InBev’s central and eastern European brands but was beat out by Ashai.

According to Thomson Reuters data, Japanese companies have spent considerably on mergers and international acquisitions in the last year, about $77.6 billion. Market analysts suggest this is a product of a weak domestic market. Indeed, the Asahi purchase seems to be in part an act of desperation. The company’s shares fellt more than 6 percent after the recent purchase of AB InBev’s central and eastern European brands. But if the buys work out as Asahi’s leadership hopes, it may prove to be a clever coup.

Asahi said in a statement that the brands acquired are “highly compatible with our existing business in Western Europe and will strengthen our business platform, allowing Asahi to grow sustainably across Europe.”

The company’s strategy is to “enhance its cash generating power through its international business by maximizing synergies with its existing business in Europe, the second largest business platform next to its domestic operations, along with merging the brand power and cost competitiveness it has cultivated in Japan.” Essentially, Asahi hopes its international acquisitions can help sustain its domestic business.