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Japan. Sapporo Holdings chases standalone Pilsner Urquell deal with Anheuser-Busch InBev

Sapporo Holdings is keen to acquire Czech brewer Pilsner Urquell, its president has told just-drinks, but only if the unit is separated from Anheuser-Busch InBev's other former SABMiller assets.

2016-11-05-15-10-2016tsutomu-kamijo_cropped_90In an interview on Friday, Tsutomu Kamijo said Pilsner Urquell is a "good brand" that fitted Sapporo's focus on quality beer. However, the president, who last week announced he would step down at the end of the year, suggested a deal was unlikely unless current owner AB InBev agrees a standalone sale.

"Personally, I want to have Pilsner Urquell, but the other brands, I don't need them," Kamijo said at Sapporo's headquarters in Tokyo. "It [Pilsner Urquell] is a good brand. It fits our culture as beer lovers."

Pilsner Urquell is just one of dozens of central and eastern European beer assets AB InBev has put up for sale after the Budweiser owner acquired them as part of its takeover of SAB. A number of groups are reportedly interested in buying the brands, including private-equity firms and Sapporo's domestic rival Asahi, which has already completed the purchase of former SAB brands Grolsch and Peroni.

Reports in July said that AB InBev is seeking a single buyer for the assets.

Despite his interest in Pilsner Urquell, Kamijo said Sapporo's current focus lies outside of Europe. "We may need more energy to focus on Europe," he said. "In general, the market itself in Western Europe is not so huge. I think we are now at the stage to concentrate on North America and South East Asia, specifically Vietnam."

Asked if Sapporo would consider buying the Vietnamese government's majority stakes in Hanoi Beer Alcohol & Beverage Corp (Habeco) and Saigon Beer Alcohol and Beverages Corp (Sabeco), Kamijo said it was only natural that his company would be interested.

"We are there, and we have a relationship with the Government and also the company," he said. "We know much more (about Vietnam), compared to players such as Asahi and Kirin."

"We're not sure what the Government is thinking about," Kamijo warned. "They are on the way to releasing the government shares in Sabeco and Habeco, but they haven't yet announced how or when."

Sapporo was one of the first international brewers to enter the Vietnamese market and has had a brewery in the country since 2011.

Kamijo will step down as Sapporo's president on 1 January to become chairman of the alcohol, soft drinks and snacks conglomerate. He will be replaced by Sapporo Breweries president & Sapporo Holdings COO Masaki Oga.

Last week, the company launched a 2020 business plan with the aim of more than doubling international profits in the next four years.

8 Nov. 2016

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