A series of aggressive acquisitions in a rapidly consolidating market has made AB InBev the world's biggest brewer. The key to growth has been a series of major purchases by what was then Interbrew, beginning with two of the UK's biggest beer marketers, and several important German brands (including Beck's). Added to the group's existing European flagship Stella Artois, and a strong portfolio of regional beers, these gave the company the right to describe itself as the "world's local brewer" by 2003, with a leading position in virtually every country in which it had a presence. This was followed in 2004 by a merger with South American brewer AmBev to form a new global giant under the name InBev. That deal gave the enlarged group a far more extensive global profile than its main rivals of the time, Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller, but it still lacked a significant presence in the US, the world's biggest beer market. That changed dramatically in 2008 when InBev succeeded in acquiring American giant Anheuser-Busch for a whopping $52bn. The resulting group, Anheuser-Busch InBev, is the world's leading brewer by a considerable margin, and widened its lead further in 2013 with a deal to acquire the shares it didn't already own in Mexican partner Modelo. This steady expansion reached its crescendo in 2015 with a deal to acquire nearest rival SABMiller for an extraordinary $104bn.
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Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Mar 2017: Doubts were raised over AB InBev's aggressive, acquisition-led strategy following publication of disappointing results for 2016, despite the acquisition of SABMiller towards the end of the year. Even CEO Carlos Brito acknowledged it had been a bad year as he waived his annual bonus. “If you own a bakery and don’t make any money one year, you don’t get a bonus - this is the same thing." But he said the disappointing performance would encourage managers to redouble their efforts for the future. "After a bad year, that’s when you see leaders rising to the occasion." Total drinks volumes fell by 2% over the year, and by 3% in the final quarter, though beer sales were less badly affected than the group's soft-drinks portfolio. Revenues rose 2% over the year to $45.5bn but were flat for the final quarter and down around 3% on a comparable like-for-like basis. Net profit plunged from $8.3bn in 2015 to $1.2bn as a result of steep finance expenses associated with the SABMiller takeover. AB InBev's total debt more than doubled to a staggering $180bn by the year's end. In performance terms, the main problem was Brazil, AB InBev's single biggest market, where economic turbulence put intense pressure on sales and profits. The US was also difficult, but Europe and especially Mexico performed well. Declines among the group's regional and local beer brands were offset by solid growth for global brands Budweiser (revenues up 3%), Stella Artois (up 6%) and Corona Extra (up over 14%). With no conceivable takeover targets left for AB InBev, the pressure is on for management to find ways of squeezing further growth out of their stripped-to-the-bone infrastructure.
Adbrands Weekly Update 12th Jan 2017: Apparently undeterred by the failure of the Keurig Kold soft drinks dispenser, AB InBev is teaming up with Keurig - now owned by German-Austrian investment giant JAB Holdings - to develop a home drinks system for alcoholic beverages. The two groups already have close links. One of JAB's three managing partners, Olivier Goudet, is also chairman of AB InBev.
Adbrands Weekly Update 29th Sep 2016: It's done. AB InBev's acquisition of SABMiller was approved by almost 96% of the latter's shareholders, despite earlier fears that it might be derailed by maverick institutional investors seeking an improved offer to compensate for post-Brexit currency fluctuations. Some SABMiller investors expressed sadness that their company name will simply disappear: the merged entity will remain AB InBev. However, SAB chairman Jan du Plessis was unmoved. "AB InBev are paying a full price for the company," he said. "They can do with the company what they wish; they can call it what they wish. That’s the way life works and that’s fine." The vote will now trigger a series of further corporate transactions, with the pre-agreed sell-off of SABMiller's competitive assets in the US, Europe and China to other brewers. SABMiller's shares will be delisted next week and completion of the merger is scheduled for October 10th.
Adbrands Weekly Update 11th Aug 2016: AB InBev issued details of its proposed management board assuming the acquisition of SABMiller goes ahead. Virtually all of the latter's current management team are expected to depart, and only one of the 20 top roles in the merged group will go to a current SABMiller manager. The revised deal will be presented to the latter's shareholders for approval on Sept 28th. Several institutional investors have said they plan to vote against the merger.
Adbrands Weekly Update 28th Jul 2016: That sound you hear is alarm bells ringing at AB InBev and SABMiller. Eight months after its original £71bn offer for SABMiller was accepted, and with almost all regulatory approvals now in the bag following months of protracted negotiations and multiple separate side-deals, AB InBev now faces a rebellion by minority shareholders that could potentially kill the whole thing. The original deal of £44 per share was worth $107bn last October, but Brexit has caused a plunge in the value of sterling so the same offer is now only worth $93bn. As a result, several institutional investors have been threatening to withhold their approval in a shareholder vote, one of only two steps left before completion of the takeover. (The other is a green light from Chinese regulators, expected imminently). AB InBev responded by sweetening its cash offer to £79bn, and is also offering an all-share alternative that would be worth more, but only if the shares are held for five years. To avoid further horse trading, AB InBev also invoked the phrase "final offer". As a result, under UK takeover rules, no further increase is allowed. If minority shareholders refuse to accept this new proposal, AB InBev will walk away. That could now happen. The deal needs 75% acceptance for clearance, but at least one major institution, Aberdeen Asset Management, has said it will reject the improved offer. To emphasize the seriousness of the situation, SABMiller has now instructed its employees to suspend all ongoing work on integration of the two companies until further notice. "This means that there should be no contact with AB InBev with immediate effect," CEO Alan Clark told staff in an email, "and all meetings and calls will be postponed until further notice... I appreciate this will cause lots of internal and external speculation. However, please stay focused." [UPDATED] In a significant boost to the likelihood of the deal coming off, Chinese regulators cleared it on Friday, and InBev's revised offer was accepted by the SABMiller board, who recommended shareholders accept it. Now all depends on the vote.
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Interbrew has the privilege of being one of the world's oldest brewers, tracing its roots back to the 14th century, when the Den Hoorn brewery in Leuven, Belgium, first began making beer. In 1717 that business changed its name after it was acquired by Sebastiaan Artois. His Artois brewery became one of continental Europe's most prosperous beermakers over the following two centuries. Its most successful brew, Stella Artois, was first brewed in 1926. After World War II, Artois began to expand its business beyond Belgium. It acquired control of Leffe in 1954, followed by Holland's Dommelsch Brewery in 1968, and Brasserie du Nord in France two years later. Stella took its first steps outside the French and Belgian market in 1976, when the company agreed its first licensing deal, with Whitbread in the UK.
Despite the success of Stella and other beers, Artois was denied the position of the most popular beer in its own country. Jupiler was introduced by Piedboeuf, a competitive family brewery which had been operating since the middle of the 19th century. Increasingly both companies were in danger of being squeezed out of the market by the relentless expansion of Carlsberg and Heineken. In 1987, Artois and Piedboeuf joined forces to create Interbrew. At the same time, the families who still controlled the respective businesses, handed over management to newly recruited executives (although they continue to have seats on the board).
The enlarged group continued to snap up smaller breweries and brands. Hoegaarden joined the portfolio in 1989, Belle-Vue in 1991. In 1995, the group made another major purchase, acquiring Canada's Labatt Brewing Company for around $2.9bn. This gave Interbrew an important foothold in the Americas and placed the company in the #3 position worldwide behind Anheuser-Busch and Heineken. The group was also adding a number of companies in eastern Europe to its collection. Interbrew acquired breweries in Hungary in 1991, Croatia and Romania in 1994, Bulgaria in 1995 and the Ukraine in 1996. As a result of its purchase of Labatt's, Interbrew also ended up with ownership of various Canadian sports teams and their stadiums, including baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays. It had been seeking a buyer for these assets for several years, and finally completed a deal to sell the Blue Jays to Rogers Communications for $112m in late 2000.
Interbrew acquired the UK's Whitbread brewery in 2000 for £400m. Whitbread's portfolio of owned brands was comparatively small, with only one major non-licensed brand, Boddingtons. But it was already the UK licensee for Stella Artois, as well as Heineken, which accounted for around a third of its business. However, competition between Heineken and Interbrew stopped the Belgian company from taking over the Whitbread's UK Heineken contract. Instead Whitbread was obliged to lease back from the Belgian company one of the breweries included in the sale and continued to produce Heineken under license until 2002. A month later Interbrew announced the purchase of Bass Brewers from what is now InterContinental Hotels for £2.3bn. This portfolio was dominated by the Carling lager brand, selling around 3.3 million barrels a year. The group also had a 55% stake in the Czech Republic's #3 brewery, Prague Breweries, makers of Staropramen beer and owned French vineyard Chateau Lascombes. Despite the fact that it was still awaiting approval of the takeover of Whitbread and Bass, the group impetuously announced it would give up private status in December that year, launching an IPO on the Belgian Stock Exchange. Also that month, Sun Interbrew, a joint venture in Russia with Sun of India, acquired Ukraine's #2 brewery Rogan.
However in January 2001, in a shock upset of Interbrew's UK ambitions, the company's acquisition of Bass Brewers was vetoed by government regulators. Interbrew had expected to be obliged to sell off some smaller brands, but had not anticipated a full block. The Competition Commission said the takeover would create an effective brewing and distribution duopoly in the UK between Interbrew and Scottish & Newcastle, and instructed Interbrew to sell Bass Brewers to a single approved bidder. The Belgian company responded by appealing against the decision, beginning a long campaign to break the business up instead of sell it whole. Finally, after several months of deliberation by regulators, Interbrew was granted improved terms for its Bass takeover. It was told to sell off the Carling, Caffrey's and Worthington brands, but allowed to keep Tennent's and Bass Ale, as well as breweries in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Carling was finally acquired by US brewer Adolph Coors for $1.7bn. Meanwhile, still chasing major acquisitions, Interbrew paid over the odds to snap up Beck's Brauerai, Germany's biggest beer exporter. The deal price was $1.56bn, making it one of the most expensive takeovers ever in the international brewing industry.
At the end of the year, a document was leaked to the British press showing plans for an imminent bid by Interbrew for South African Breweries. The brewer claimed that the document was largely forged, although parts of it were genuine, and stated that no such plans were being considered. (Instead SAB subsequently joined the frenzy of consolidation across the industry, acquiring Miller of the US). In 2002 Interbrew added a third Chinese brewer to its portfolio, paying $42m for a 70% stake in regional brewery KK Group, and acquiring a 24% stake in existing strategic partner Zhujiang. However the key deal was the merger with AmBev, announced in early 2004. The only potential complication involved in this deal was resolving the relationship between Labatt and Mexico's FEMSA Cerveza, a rival to AmBev. Even before Interbrew's purchase of Labatt, the Canadian company had agreed a strategic alliance with FEMSA, makers of Dos Equis, Bohemia and Sol beers. As a sideline to the AmBev deal, Interbrew agreed to sell back to FEMSA the 30% stake it owned, and also dissolved their North American distribution partnership. The company also reacquired US distribution rights to its own Bass Ale, previously distributed under license by Diageo.
In what was then its most ambitious acquisition, Interbrew announced in March 2004 a complex deal to merge with Brazil's AmBev, then the world's 5th biggest brewer, paying E3.3bn to acquire an effective 56% equity holding in AmBev. In return, AmBev absorbed Interbrew's interests in Canada and the US, represented by the Labatt Brewing Company. The deal closed in August 2004. see full profile for current activities
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