Commentary

AB InBev Looks To Expand In SABMiller's Emerging Markets

If Anheuser-Busch InBev succeeds in a friendly takeover of SABMiller — first making an offer its shareholders can’t refuse and then withstanding antitrust scrutiny in several markets, particularly the U.S. and China — it will serve up about a third of all suds globally, broaden the global distribution for the King of Beers to emerging regions and become a brewing juggernaut worth $245 billion at current valuations. But it will also continue to face defection from consumers whose preferences are becoming more local, diverse and finicky.

“Ironically, the industry has consolidated just as consumer tastes in beer are fragmenting,” point out James Fontanella-Khan, Arash Massoudi and Scheherazade Daneshkhu in Financial Times. “The big brewers face a growing challenge from craft beer, popular with Millennial and younger drinkers who reject what they perceive as the bland offerings of the big multinationals.”

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And even if the breweries would prefer to frame the argument otherwise, they’re not just competing against other brews in the buzz category. 

“Just 20 years ago, nearly three-quarters of youths aged 18 to 29 said they liked beer best. Today, after years of steady decline, the percentage of young beer lovers is down to just 40,” according to a Goldman Sachs Investment Research study covered by the Washington Post’s Roberto A. Ferdman last December. And it wasn’t just fickle Millennials turning away — “nationwide, beer consumption fell by nearly 9% between 2002 and 2012,” according to a Beer Marketing Insights study, Ferdman writes.

But it’s a big world out there.

“A deal for SABMiller — which makes more than 200 beers, including Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Pilsner Urquell and Grolsch — would offer AB InBev a chance to push those brands, plus its own, into new markets,” Tripp Mickle, Saabira Chaudhuri and Matthew Dalton observe in the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, AB InBev “now sells more Budweiser outside the U.S.” and it  “does particularly well in China, where it is considered a premium brew.” Along those lines, AB InBev markets Stella Artois, an everyday beer in Belgium, as a premium brew in the U.S. and China, they point out.

“An acquisition of SABMiller, with its big presence in Africa, would give AB InBev a major launching pad for its beers in markets where it has virtually no presence,” as well as the Middle East and Latin American markets such as Colombia and Peru.

Meanwhile, it seems almost certain that there would have to be some divestitures in the U.S.

“There is no way that AB with 45% market share could acquire an interest in the No. 2 player. That is a no-starter from an antitrust perspective,” Benj Steinman, editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights, tellsFortune’s John Kell.

“With close to a hundred beverage brands between AB InBev and SABMiller worldwide, it’s still too early to say what would go on the selling block, but top shoppers would likely include Molson and Heineken. Constellation and Carlsberg could also be interested,” Kell reports.

“What a terrible, terrible idea. This should be dead on arrival at the DOJ,” Diana Moss, president of the American Antitrust Institute, tells the Washington Post’s Drew Harwell. “There would be grave concerns over their power to control price … and the effects on the craft-brewing industry would be devastating.”

Not to mention impact Madison Avenue, where AB InBev is ranked No. 44 in ad spending and SABMiller is No. 55, and the former is known for its cost-cutting and economy-class ways.

“A combined entity would rank 13th, according to Kantar Media,” reports Suzanne Vranica for the Wall Street Journal. “That ad spending power will undoubtedly give the brew even more sway over its ad firms and media companies.”

“It’s not high-five time for agencies,” External View Consulting Group’s Russel Wohlwerth tells Vranica. “There is no doubt, they will assert their power,” he says — that is, if the deal between Leuven, Belgium-based AB InBev and London-based SABMiller goes through.

“Under U.K. takeover rules, AB InBev has until 5 p.m. in London on Oct. 14 to either make an offer or walk away. SABMiller disclosed the approach in response to what it called ‘recent press speculation,’” Bloomberg’s Paul Jarvis reports, speculating in his lede that the deal may cost AB InBev upwards of $100 billion and pointing out that the potential combination has been bandied about for years.

So who’s raising a toast to the offer in the making? Wall Street.

“Shares in SAB closed up 19.9%  at 36.14 pounds, giving it a market capitalization of $90 billion. AB InBev's were up 6.4%,” according to Reuters.

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