SABMiller Plc, the world’s second- largest brewer by volume, may need to include its Australian partner Coca-Cola Amatil Ltd. or negotiate a buyout of their venture if it bids for Foster’s Group Ltd.
The terms of their partnership require any SABMiller alcohol expansion in Australia to be first offered to their Pacific Beverages venture, which holds rights for brands including Peroni, Miller and Grolsch, Coca-Cola Amatil Chief Executive Officer Terry Davis said in a Feb. 23 interview.
“If the joint venture says no, then they have a bit of a problem,” Davis said by telephone. “You can expect that I would want fair value for those brands.”
Pacific Beverages was formed in 2006 with an aim to create Australia’s third-largest beer business in a market where more than 90 percent of sales are controlled by Foster’s and the Lion Nathan unit of Kirin Holdings Co. SABMiller is working with JPMorgan Chase & Co. to study a bid for Foster’s once Australia’s biggest brewer completes a spinoff of its wine unit, a person with knowledge of the situation has said.
“There might be a breakup fee in the hundreds of millions,” said Theo Maas, who holds beverage stocks among the $5 billion he helps manage at Arnhem Investment Management in Sydney.
Nigel Fairbrass, a spokesman for London-based SABMiller, declined to comment on the venture with Sydney-based Coca-Cola Amatil. Troy Hey, a spokesman for Melbourne-based Foster’s, declined to comment on “market speculation” the company may be a takeover target.
Speculation increased that SABMiller may purchase Foster’s, maker of Australia’s top selling brew Victoria Bitter, after the Melbourne-based company said on Feb. 15 that it plans to spin off the world’s second-largest wine business by May to focus on boosting beer earnings. Outgoing Chief Executive Officer Ian Johnston said on a conference call that day the Foster’s board of directors would consider any bid if it came along.
“When I negotiated the contract I was mindful of this,” said Davis, 53.
Pacific Beverages, which is 50 percent owned by each company, posted its first annual profit this week, with Coca- Cola Amatil earning A$1.5 million ($1.52 million) from it in the 12 months ended Dec. 31.
The venture last year started production at a new A$120 million brewery near Newcastle north of Sydney as it seeks to win more sales of draft beer in pubs and clubs.
The venture, which also sells Jim Beam bourbon and Russian Standard vodka, sells five beers in Australia’s top 20 premium packaged labels with both Grolsch and Peroni Nastro Azzurro in the top ten.
“The pubs realize they make more margin selling a premium beer than they do selling a commercial beer,” Davis said. “The independent customers in particular want to break the stranglehold of the major brewers.”