Carlsberg Looking for Acquisitions in Asia as Europe Stagnates

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Carlsberg A/S, the world’s fourth- biggest brewer, said it’s seeking acquisition opportunities in Asia, including China, amid slowing growth in Europe.

“We look very actively across Asia,” Chief Executive Officer Joergen Buhl Rasmussen said in an interview in Beijing yesterday. In Europe, “we are assuming a cautious environment, very little growth, probably slight decline,” he said. Beer is “not completely recession proof.”

The beermaker is aiming to boost investment in China both organically and through acquisitions, the CEO said, without disclosing possible targets. The Danish company last year increased its ownership of its Indian unit, and expanded its partnership with Chongqing Brewery Co. in western China.

Brewers are looking to emerging economies to drive sales growth as markets in western Europe and the U.S. stagnate, restrained by already-high levels of alcohol consumption, growing competition and tough economic conditions.

Anheuser-Busch InBev NV, Tsingtao Brewery Co. and China Resources Snow Brewery Co., a joint venture with SABMiller Plc, may bid for assets of China’s Kingway Brewery Holdings, the Wall Street Journal said last week, citing people familiar with the matter. Rasmussen declined to comment on the report.

China’s beer market will grow 6 percent to 7 percent annually over the next two to three years, said Rasmussen, who’s in Beijing to attend the European Union-China summit starting today. Retail beer sales in China, the world’s most populous nation, may have risen to 360 billion yuan ($57 billion) in 2011, according to researcher Euromonitor International.

China Competitors

China Resources Enterprise Ltd., the maker of Snow beer with SABMiller, has a 22 percent share of China’s beer market; Tsingtao Brewery, part-owned by Asahi Group Holdings Ltd., has 14 percent; and Anheuser-Busch InBev has 12 percent, according to London-based Euromonitor.

Carlsberg, the largest shareholder in Chongqing Brewery with about a 30 percent stake, sells Kronenbourg 1664 and Wusu among other beers in China.

Carlsberg reduced its annual forecast in August after bad weather and sluggish sales in Russia, along with headwinds from high prices of commodities including malting barley, weighed on profitability. It got almost half its operating profit from eastern Europe in its last fiscal year.

The volume of beer sold in eastern Europe slid 9 percent in the three months ended Sept. 30, the brewer said in November, compared with an 11 percent increase in Asia.

–Michael Wei and Clementine Fletcher, with assistance from Stephen Engle and Christine Hah in Beijing. Editors: Paul Jarvis, Stephanie Wong