Bud, Miller and Global Beer Giants Fight It Out for China's Rust Belt

BEIJING (TheStreet) -- Northeastern China is a land of shuttered factories and gritty cities that's often compared to America's Rust Belt.

It's also a land of enthusiastic beer drinkers in a country where beer consumption is growing fast -- jumping 4.6% last year from 2012 to a world-leading 49 billion liters, according to China's official industry data. China is become a competitive focal point for the globe's biggest breweries.

And the center of this focal point for Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), SABMiller (SBMRY), Japan's Asahi (ASBRY) and other beer giants is depressed, rusting northeastern China.

The competition intensified last month when InBev bought Ginsber, a brewery with a capacity of about 500 million liters a year that's based in the northeastern city of Jilin.

Ginsber's rival brands include an SABMiller-affiliated beer named Snow, Asahi-invested Tsingtao (TSGTY) and Chinese state-owned Yanjing. Upscale beers also available on area supermarket shelves include Denmark's Carlsberg (CABGY) and Holland's Heineken.

InBev did not disclose terms of the deal with Ginsber's seller Hongzui Group, a Communist Party-led enterprise based in the city of Siping that also makes chemicals, building materials and soybean oil.

But when China's Ministry of Commerce announced that the central government had approved Ginsber's sale to a foreign company, it said the deal was worth $622 million.

The takeover strengthened InBev's solid position in the northeast, where it already controls Harbin, a beer brewed in a factory city with the same name near the Russian border. Harbin was partly owned by SABMiller before InBev won control in 2004.

InBev and SABMiller, which works closely with its northeast-rooted and Hong Kong-listed domestic partner China Resources, are each aiming for a 30% share of the Chinese beer market, according to a recent report in the state-run Economic Observer newspaper.

Each of these multinationals has been growing rapidly in China over the past decade by buying regional breweries from government entities such as Hongzui. Last year, SABMiller snapped up a major brewer in southern China, Kingway, reportedly for a king's ransom of $864 million.

There has been a huge build-up of brewery holdings in provinces nationwide. Today, for example, InBev operates about 50 breweries across the country, with a combined annual capacity of 7 billion liters. Alongside regional brands, it sells a domestic version of Budweiser beer.

Still on top of China's market, though, is SABMiller. The company's partner China Resources reported sales of nearly 11 billion liters last year, up 10% from 2012, and a net profit of $258 million. Its biggest brand Snow, which was first brewed in the northeastern city of Shenyang, is both the most popular beer in China and the world's No. 1 seller.

As of last year, SABMiller with its partner had cornered more than 25% of the Chinese beer market. InBev and its affiliates controlled about 20%. Three other concerns -- Asahi with its partner Qingdao (the maker of Tsingtao), Carlsberg and Yanjing -- share another 30%.

Tsingtao is the world's second-largest-selling brand. And it's making a lot of money: Qingdao recently reported first-quarter 2014 revenues of nearly $1.2 billion, up 17% from the same period last year, and a 20% increase in net profit to $94 million.

InBev was Qingdao's chief foreign partner before Asahi took over its 19% stake in 2009.

Other major brands with foreign influence in China include Heineken's Tiger beer, a favorite in southern China, including Hong Kong, and Carlsberg's Dali brand in the country's southwest.

China's biggest potential takeover target is Beijing-based Yanjing, whose stock trades on the Shenzhen exchange but is firmly controlled by the government through state-owned banks. For 2013, Yanjing reported $15 million in earnings and $3 billion in revenues on sales of 571 million liters.

Yanjing, by far the largest seller in the Beijing region, is one of a dwindling number of brewers still making suds without a foreign partner. More regional brewery takeovers are expected, industry analysts say, but the trend is slowing.

He Yong, deputy secretary for a China Wine Industry Association, told the Economic Observer: "The current competitive situation in the beer industry is well-developed. The journey toward large-scale expansion is nearly complete."

>>Read More: Delta Airlines Boosts Dividend and Share Buyback Effort

>>Read More: Twitter Hits All-Time Low as Lockup Expiry Hits

>>Read More: Microsoft's Surface Mini May Give New Life to Windows RT

At the time of publication, the author held no positions in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

If you liked this article you might like

Constellation Brands Will Have a Very Happy Cinco de Mayo: Macquarie

Constellation Brands Will Have a Very Happy Cinco de Mayo: Macquarie

Watch: How Could a Trade War Bomb Your Wallet?

Watch: How Could a Trade War Bomb Your Wallet?

The Case For Driverless Cars: Bonus White Paper

The Case For Driverless Cars: Bonus White Paper

Pizza & Beer Money: 8 Best Buys in Casual Dining, Spirits and Craft Brewing

Pizza & Beer Money: 8 Best Buys in Casual Dining, Spirits and Craft Brewing

Super Bowl 52 Advertisers Not Seeing a Stock Bump Amid Market Selloff

Super Bowl 52 Advertisers Not Seeing a Stock Bump Amid Market Selloff