What's going to be the impact of beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev's purchase of rival SABMiller?
The general consensus is this: we don't know.
The folks at Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller are tight-lipped about it, since A-B's $104.5 billion deal hasn't been codified with a formal offer as of yet. It's a necessary step thanks British takeover rules, and Brazilian-Belgian A-B InBev's deadline for that formal offer was extended to October 28.
That should give the world a better idea of what Anheuser-Busch InBev will be getting out of the deal, which will likely include SABMiller's vast holdings in Africa and business interests in China and other parts of Asia. However, it will likely be up to the Department of Justice to decide what SABMiller products Anheuser-Busch InBev will and won't be able to sell here in the U.S.
Currently, SABMiller's U.S. interests are wrapped up in the MillerCoors joint venture it formed with Molson Coors back in 2008. Under the terms of that venture, Molson Coors can buy 8% of SABMiller's share of the partnership immediately to bring it to 50% ownership. Then Molson Coors gets first and last offer on SABMiller's remaining 50%, as well as the ability to name the new Molson chief executive when the dust settles.
Because MillerCoors exists as its own entity, there is a chance that the Department of Justice may require it to sell SABMiller products here without Anheuser-Busch InBev benefitting from the agreement. The precedent for such a scenario was set in 2011, when Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased Mexico's Grupo Modelo for $20.1 billion, but was ordered by the DOJ to relinquish the rights to U.S. brewing and sales to Grupo Modelo's U.S. distributor, Constellation Brands.
That is certainly a viable option for MillerCoors, but we likely won't see a decision from the Department of Justice on the Anheuser-Busch InBev/SABMiller deal until 2016 at the earliest. A-B InBev's formal offer for SABMiller will offer some clues about the company's intentions in the U.S., but even that decision will result in more speculation than solid answers for the U.S. beer market.
However, there are some items within SABMiller's sphere of influence that are worth focusing on as this deal progresses. The following ten beverages could have significant impact not only on this deal, but on the future of A-B InBev, Molson Coors and MillerCoors.
When Redd's Apple Ale debuted in the U.S., a common complaint was that it was neither cider nor beer. That wasn't wrong.
Originally launched by SABMiller-owned Kompania Piwowarska in Poland back in 2000, Redd's is a flavored malt beverage that U.S. drinkers have increasingly embraced. Consider that all sales of hard cider in the U.S. combined accounted for 1.2% of the beer market in 2014. Sales of just two brands of flavored malt beverage -- Mike's Hard and Anheuser-Busch InBev's A-Rita -- accounted for 1.6% of the beer market during that same span. With the Redd's lineup expanding to different apple and strawberry varieties -- and its high-alcohol Redd's Wicked offerings drifting into mango and black cherry flavors -- Redd's is hitting a sweet spot for MillerCoors that resulted in double-digit percentage point sales growth for the first half of the year.
However, since Redd's came into MillerCoors from a source within SABMiller's portfolio outside the U.S., there is a chance that it might stay with SABMiller after the purchase.
If you've been to just about any Italian-themed chain restaurant in the U.S., they've at least had Peroni's Nastro Azzurro light lager in bottles for a touch of “authenticity.” However, Peroni's been in SABMiller's hands since 2003 and is sold under license here in the U.S.
Basically, SABMiller's “blue ribbon” Italian beer exists here on SABMiller's whim. The brewer determines who gets the rights to it and, though MillerCoors holds them now, that doesn't mean they can't be transferred to Heineken USA, Diageo, Constellation Brands or, more likely, Anheuser-Busch InBev in the future.
Blue Moon was born a Coors product 20 years ago, and even after the formation of Molson Coors in 2005 and MillerCoors in 2008, it has remained close to home. As one of the crown jewels of the MillerCoors Tenth and Blake craft division, chances are strong that it isn't going anywhere.
If MillerCoors is going to continue to exist as its own entity -- possibly under a different name or with multiple owners -- it's going to need the strength of the Blue Moon brand. Blue Moon's sales have grown steadily in the wake of the recession, with sales of Blue Moon Belgian White rising for 79 quarters -- or the majority of its 20-year existence. With a new Blue Moon brewery and tasting room in the works in Denver and Blue Moon's birthplace at the SandLot Brewery at Coors Field still serving as an incubator for MillerCoors craft recipes, Blue Moon will be at the center of MillerCoors' life without SABMiller.
Miller Brewing Company bought Chippewa Falls, Wis.-based Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company back in 1988. That means it goes with SABMiller once the deal is completed, right?
Not so fast. Keep in mind that half of the name of the MillerCoors Tenth and Blake comes from Leinenkugel's 10th Street brewery in Milwaukee (with BlueMoon's SandLot address on Blake Street accounting for the other part). Leinenkugel's and its line of shandies are of immense importance to MillerCoors as it currently exists, and it's tough to imagine MillerCoors letting it go without a fight. With the Leinenkugel family still playing an active role in both the brewery and Tenth and Blake, expect their voice to speak volumes about the future of MillerCoors.
This has huge implications on a global scale. Anheuser-Busch InBev has not only not been able to get its mitts of Czech Beers Staropramen (Molson Coors) and Gambrinus (SABMiller), but has been stifled by the brewers of the Czech Republic from using the term “Budweiser” to sell one of its flagship beers in Europe.
However, the bigger implication in the U.S. is that both Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus -- brewed in Plzen, the town that invested pilsner -- would be tossed into an Anheuser-Busch InBev import portfolio that already includes Beck's, Stella Artois, Brahma, Leffe, Hoegaarden, Spaten, Löwenbräu and Alexander Keith's. It'll still be there for loyal drinkers, but it would be yet another Anheuser-Busch InBev product elbowing Heineken, Diageo-Guinness, Molson Coors or even Duvel Moortgat off the shelf.
The Keystone economy brands have been with Coors and Molson Coors for 26 years, and they're going to be incredibly important to that company for the next 26 as well.
As Miller Lite and even Coors Light lost a step after the recession, Keystone Light put up double-digit percentage point growth through 2013. Though Keystone Light slipped a bit last year and is regularly outgunned by Anheuser-Busch InBev's Natural Light (which sold 6.8 million barrels to Keystone Light's 3.6 million last year), it's exactly the type of beer that a brewery can promote when the economy or even brewery sales are in a slump. Economy beers are what fill the trucks and keep the bedrock beer drinkers happy. Short of some explosive growth by Coors Banquet, Keystone Light will keep filling that go-to beer role for MillerCoors.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
When the Pabst Brewing Company sold for roughly $700 million last year, it did so without a brewery of its own.
While some brands in Pabst's large library of legacy beers are brewed with the help of other contract brewers, Pabst Blue Ribbon relies on MillerCoors facilities to brew the 2.7 million barrels of beer it sold last year. That single brand produces roughly as much beer as the entire Yuengling brewing operation and more beer than North American Breweries (Genesee, Magic Hat, Pyramid, Portland), Diageo-Guinness and any craft beer brewer that isn't Samuel Adams-producer Boston Beer Company.
While we'd like to say that Pabst's brewing operations should be secure thanks to its contracts with MillerCoors, the question of what happens to MillerCoors and its facilities hasn't exactly been resolved as of yet. That's annoying enough when you're a MillerCoors employee or a loyal drinker of its products. It's another issue entirely when you rely upon MillerCoors, its spare brewing capacity and its labor for the bulk of your business.
Smith and Forge Hard Cider
Even within the MillerCoors pages, it's labeled a “Miller Brewing Company” product. Again, this doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to go with SABMiller and start a new life with Anheuser-Busch InBev.
For one, A-B InBev already has its own male-focused cider: Johnny Appleseed. For another, Johnny Appleseed actually outsold Smith and Forge last year, bringing in $20.7 million to Smith and Forge's $19.6 million. However, both Johnny Appleseed and Smith and Forge are getting their clocks cleaned by not only C&C-owned Vermont cider brand Woodchuck ($38.6 million) but by Boston Beer Company's cider juggernaut Angry Orchard (in first place by not a little with $208.1 million in sales). Though MillerCoors still has its Crispin craft cider brand, it wouldn't mind hanging onto Smith and Forge just to keep pace. However, A-B InBev knows it could have second place among cider producers all to itself if it brought Smith and Forge into the fold. We'll see what the DOJ thinks about this small, but fast-growing corner of the beer world. With sales of cider increasing 75% between 2013 and 2014 alone, it's a big decision.
Keep in mind, neither Miller nor Coors had bought a brewery since the Jacob Leinenkugel deal in 1988. Beer industry folks will tell you that MillerCoors had been sniffing around for craft breweries since then, but any beer drinker could tell you that all that sniffing amounted to just about zilch until this year.
With the 2012 acquisition of Crispin cider not withstanding, acquisitions were just generally not a strong point for MillerCoors. Even after it purchased San Diego-based Saint Archer for Tenth and Blake in September, however, there were questions about it acquisition strategy. After all, Saint Archer was only founded in 2013, and despite winning a gold medal for its white ale at the Great American Beer Festival in 2014, it seemed fairly new for such a big leap.
However, during a year in which Heineken (Lagunitas), A-B InBev (Elysian, Golden Road) and Duvel Moortgat (Firestone Walker) all made significant craft beer purchases, it seemed incumbent upon MillerCoors to do something. However, with SABMiller itself being acquired, MillerCoors' plans for further acquisitions seem to be on indefinite hold. What will they look like once the deal is done? That may depend on what MillerCoors itself looks like in the aftermath.
We aren't joking.
MillerCoors got its hands on this former Minnesota monster brewer and its iconic bear back in 2006 -- about nine years after the flagship St. Paul brewery closed. It still packages a stripped-down version of Hamm's in 16-ounce tallboy cans and pairs it with Hamm's Special Light in beer coolers.
However, it just kind of floats out there in the ether. Many of the other brands like it are owned by the Pabst Brewing Company, and the other MillerCoors legacy brand -- Henry Weinhard's, whose Portland, Ore. brewery was shut down by Miller back in 1999 -- has been turned into something resembling craft beer. Hamm's is filler beer behind a long-deal brand, which seems to make it a prime candidate for a sale to Pabst. With a portfolio filled with leftovers like Icehouse, Red Dog, Mickey's, Miller Genuine Draft and the entire Milwaukee's Best line, Hamm's seems like yet another old beer knick-knack just waiting for the next round of housekeeping. Let's see if the new owners want to keep it around.