By: Olly Wehring
The just-drinks leader, written by the just-drinks leader.
A relatively small transaction in the beer industry today has left me confused. Why would Anheuser-Busch InBev snap up a London-based craft brewer, when it has a staggeringly-similar entity waiting in the wings, once it completes its purchase of SABMiller? That AB InBev has lined up the sale of this SAB-owned brewer confuses me yet further.
When you buy yourself a new toy, the first thing you want to do is to take it home and play with it. You don't want someone taking it off you, perusing it to see if it will give you too much fun or if it will upset your friends, who may be having not as much fun as you are.
The timing could have been better, but yesterday's divestment of much of Diageo's wine operations has been mooted for a while. What is ironic, though, is that the buyer was itself offered to Diageo as an acquisition opportunity less than seven years ago.
If I were a betting man – and, I am told on occasions like these that I'm not allowed to be, 'cos it's illegal – I'd stick the house on Anheuser-Busch InBev. The brewer has today got SABMiller, if not in a corner, then certainly on the ropes.
We finally have some numbers to play with in Anheuser-Busch InBev's tussle with SABMiller. Add in a deadline that is only days away, and we've got ourselves our own drinks industry cliffhanger going on.
It's all too much to happen on one day for this to be a coincidence, surely? Is SABMiller showing a bit of leg to Anheuser-Busch InBev while simultaneously whispering “higher, higher” in its suitor's ear? That's what two developments today suggest.
Much as Brown-Forman would not be drawn on reports last week that its Southern Comfort whiskey liqueur has been put up for sale, the brand's performances of late suggest that the end is, if not already upon it, then just around the corner.
Today's confirmation that Anheuser-Busch InBev is exploring a bid for SABMiller will have come as a surprise to precisely nobody in the global beer industry. And, while it is by no means a done-deal, there's a certain sense of inevitability about it that many have felt for quite a while now.
Diageo's exit from its beer joint-venture in South Africa and Namibia comes at the same time as observers are considering what else the company defines as non-core to its business. The move suggests to many – and, initially, to me also – that beer is next on the group's non-core list.
It would be very easy to get carried away by the latest stirrings from Diageo over in the US. Indeed, when the Securities & Exchange Commission comes knocking, it would take a particularly ignorant person to not get carried away. But, is this as big a deal as it at first seems?
Yesterday's appointment news from Diageo has echoes of a similar HR switch at SABMiller two years ago - a question of perceived suitability.
I remember the occasion well: It was a warm, summer's day five years ago, when Pernod Ricard's Chivas Brothers division hosted me and many of my peers at its London offices to unveil a new marketing push for its Scotch whisky range.
The footballing world may be in turmoil today, but the drinks companies with more than a passing interest in the beautiful game seem determined not to be swept up by the latest scandal to hit FIFA. For now.
It's not every day that one can accuse the world's biggest spirits producer of being a bit stupid, but my peers in India are making hay today, doing just that. But, before wading in against Diageo and the call by its United Spirits unit in India for chairman Vijay Mallya to stand down, ask yourself this one question: What difference does it make?
Another day, another drinks executive stepping down “to explore new opportunities”. Usually, this is code for “is leaving to join one of our competitors in a slightly better-paid position”. But, with nowhere to go to yet, Andy Fennell's departure from Diageo is a strange one, especially as he has been held up internally as the 'next big thing'.
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