Japan's brewing giants look overseas

22 August 2011

TOKYO: Japan's biggest brewers are seeking to enhance their presence overseas, in an effort to offset challenging domestic market conditions.

Asahi, the second largest player in Japan's beer sector by revenues, has recently bid $1.2bn to buy Independent Liquor, a drinks manufacturer based in New Zealand.

This marks the latest of several investments made by Asahi since 2009, such as acquiring a share in Tsingtao in China, as well as purchasing Charlie's Group in New Zealand and Schweppes Australia.

Naoki Izumiya, president  of Asahi, said: "There is obviously a limit to expansion in Southeast Asia, and Asia as a whole, and if we only do it in Asia, it will not be enough to meet our goals.

"So our first consideration is seeing what more can be done in China, Asia and Oceania, but after that, we will of course need to make efforts to consider good offers available outside of those areas."

Kirin, Japan's top brewer, has also been active in the last few years, purchasing Lion Nathan and National Foods in Australia, Interfood Shareholding in Vietnam and a stake in Fraser & Neave in Singapore.

In August, it paid $2.6bn for a controlling share in Schincariol, a family-owned Brazilian operator.

Senji Miyake, Kirin's President, said: "In the beer market there is not such a large number of opportunities available, globally it wouldn't be a long list, so when this very good investment opportunity came up in Brazil, a large market with high growth potential, we decided to invest."

Suntory, the third-placed firm in Japan's beer category, already owns Orangina Schweppes, giving it a European presence, and Frucor Group, headquartered in New Zealand.

Having lagged behind somewhat in the M&A race, Suntory last week launched a new sub-unit, Suntory Beverage & Food Asia, charged with "expanding" its business throughout the region.

One major problem facing these companies is a broad lack of experience in managing their foreign counterparts, often hindered by differences both in language and business culture.

Nigel Muston, a consumer goods analyst at Crédit Agricole, said: "They can't really add a lot to overseas acquisitions in the form of management. We haven't seen a lot of co-ordination across borders."

However, Tokushi Yamasaki, a beer analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets, suggested Japan's ageing population and sluggish long term economic performance left no real alternative.

Yamasaki said: "They don't have a choice. It won't be easy to realise their dream scenario, but it is clear that if they restrict themselves to the domestic market they will just shrink."

Data sourced from Financial Times/Bloomberg; additional content by Warc staff