A subsidiary of Japanese company Kirin, Lion (previously Lion Nathan National Foods) is now the smaller of Australia's two dominant brewers. Its portfolio includes three of the country's top five beers - XXXX, Toohey's and Hahn Super Dry - as well as New Zealand's market-leading Speight's and Steinlager; Australian ale Furphy's and craft beers including James Squire and Little Creatures. Until late 2016, Lion was also the local licensee for Corona, Stella Artois and other ABInBev beers in both countries, but that arrangement ended following the larger group's acquisition of main rival Carlton United Brewers. As a result, Lion's Australian market share slipped to around 42% for 2017, compared to around 45% for CUB. (Lion still distributes AB InBev's international brands in NZ, and now manages Heineken, Guinness and Moretti in Australia). A 13-year joint venture to distribute Bacardi's brands in Australia was also terminated in 2016, and Lion sold its wine division Fine Wine Partners, with brands including Petaluma and Wither Hills, to Accolade Wines later the same year. The company became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Japanese brewer Kirin at the end of 2009, and subsequently merged with Kirin's existing dairy subsidiary National Foods, which controls Pura milk and Berri fruit juice as well as the local license for Yoplait. In 2018, Lion announced plans to divest its dairy division to focus on alcoholic beverages. The cheese assets were acquired by Canadian company Caputo and a deal for the remaining milk brands was agreed with Chinese dairy producer Mengniu. However, after nine months of regulatory deliberations the latter deal collapsed as a result of rising trade tensions between Australia and China. In the mean time, Lion planted its flag in the UK market for the first time in 2018 with the purchase of London-based craft brewer Fourpure, followed the following year by Yorkshire-based Magic Rock. Those businesses were combined in 2020 under the name Little World Beverages. The Australian dairy & drinks business was finally sold to Bega Foods in 2021. Lion also has a presence in the US through New Belgium Brewing Company. Group revenues for 2020 were approx US$2.7bn (Y292bn), with beer accounting for a little under two-thirds of sales. Stuart Irvine is CEO. Lion traces its history back to the first days of colonisation: its earliest subsidiary was established in New Zealand in 1840, and the Lion name was adopted in 1915 following a series of mergers of local brewers. The Nathan retail business was acquired later, and the enlarged group moved to Australia in the 1990s following the acquisition of local giant Bond Breweries and other regional companies.
Capsule checked 20th January 2020
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Adbrands Daily Update 26th Nov 2020: A buyer was finally found for Lion's dairy drinks division after two years of searching. Ownership will now revert to an Australian company: the buyer of Lion's Dairy Farmers, Big M, Yoplait and other yoghurt and milk brands is local icon Bega Cheese. The sale price is A$560m (approx US$412m), less than had been agreed with previous proposed partner Mengniu, but still a very respectable sum. Bega rescued another Aussie icon, Vegemite, in 2017 was it was offloaded by Mondelez.
Adbrands Daily Update 25th Aug 2020: Increasingly strained diplomatic ties between Australia and China have put an end to the sale of Lion's milk business to Mengniu Dairy. The Australian government has been conducting a prolonged investigation into that proposed sale. Although regulators had privately green-lit the deal, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg refused to sign off on the sale, which he said would be "contrary to the national interest". His decision was in large part a response to several moves by China to restrict exports by some Australian companies, including a threat to raise import duties on Australian wine.
Adbrands Daily Update 25th Nov 2019: Lion's parent Kirin has finally secured a buyer for its Australian dairy and fruit juice division following a protracted search. More than a year after it began seeking a buyer it has agreed a deal to sell the business to Chinese giant Mengniu Dairy for A$600m. Brands include Dairy Farmers, Pura and Big M packaged milk; Dare and Farmers Union iced coffee; Vitasoy, Yoplait yoghurt and Daily Juice, among others. The acquisition is subject to regulatory approval in Australia. [Updated: Approval was granted in Feb 2020, but had still not been completed by Aug 2020 when an argument about diplomatic relations between Australia and China raised the possibility that the deal might be abandoned.]
Adbrands Daily Update 29th Apr 2019: Hot on the heels of its acquisition of UK-based cheese producer Dairy Crest, Canadian firm Saputo strengthened its position in Australia with a deal to acquire the speciality cheese unit of Lion Dairy & Drinks for A$280m (around US $197m). Brands being transferred include South Cape, Tasmanian Heritage, Mersey Valley and King Island Dairy. Saputo established a dominant presence in the Australian market in 2018 with the acquisition of leading local producer Devondale Murray Goulburn. Lion is continuing to look for a buyer for its remaining dairy and juice assets.
Adbrands Social Media 18th Apr 2019: "Tokyo Dry 2". Here's a fabulously joyful spot from DDB New Zealand for the popular "dry" process spin-off from local hero beer Steinlager. (It's the brewing process made famous by Asahi Super Dry in which almost all the sugar is converted to alcohol to give lower calorie content and less of an aftertaste). And they know what they're talking about at Steinlager when they produce a Japanese-style lager: the brewery is a regional division of Kirin. It's a second bite of the cherry for Steinlager and DDB, who have teamed up before for this sort of Tokyo-themed culture mash-up, but this one is the best to-date. The backing track is a remix of 'Slice of Heaven' by Dave Dobbyn. Let's dance!
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