SABMiller CEO Graham Mackay has reiterated that the group is interested in acquisitions, but the brewer has not been as inactive in the last 18 months as some may suppose.

Mackay said in an interview with Bloomberg newswire, published today (12 August), that SABMiller has "money available" and that there is "nothing stopping us from the right acquisition".

SABMiller has been consistently linked with possible mergers and acquisitions over the last 18 months. Would it have stepped in as a white knight last year to "rescue" Scottish & Newcastle from the clutches of foreign ownership in the form of Carlsberg and Heineken, for example? 

The brewer has since been touted as a potential buyer of Foster's beer unit in Australia and was reported to have expressed interest in Anheuser-Busch InBev's Oriental Brewery in South Korea, subsequently sold to private equity group KKR.

SABMiller certainly did consider a move for Cobra Beer last year, but was put off by the asking price, while Sanford C Bernstein analyst Trevor Stirling has previously tipped it as a bidder for Sun InBev, should Anheuser-Busch InBev decide to sell its Russian arm.

"SAB is better positioned than its peers from a balance sheet perspective - its debt position is more solid since it didn't engage in the most recent wave of consolidation," one analyst told just-drinks today.

"SAB also may want to balance its geographic mix since it is so dependent on emerging markets," she added.

Around two thirds of SABMiller's operating profits come from emerging markets in Africa, Asia, Central & Eastern Europe and Latin America. The brewer has a higher exposure to emerging markets than its multinational rivals.

So far, the speculation on acquisitions has come to nothing, although the brewer has signed deals to fully acquire Polish subsidiary Kompania Piwowarska, for US$1.1bn, and Bere Azuga in Romania.

If the rivalry in the brewing world can be equated to football, SABMiller would be the Manchester United to InBev's Real Madrid.

InBev has flashed the cash, spending an astronomical $52bn on A-B, while SABMiller, although retaining access to funds and not afraid to use them, has nevertheless put a greater emphasis on internal growth.

Rather than blockbuster buys, SABMiller's investment strategy of late has been geared more towards building up breweries and brands, if not from scratch then certainly from a low base.

This year, the group has signed deals to buy four relatively unknown breweries in China, via its China Resources Snow Breweries joint venture in the country. It also plans to have opened four new breweries in Africa before the end of calendar 2009, in Sudan, Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Peroni Nastro Azzurro, in which SABMiller first acquired a stake in 2003 and which has proved successful in several European markets, has been built up from nothing outside of its Italian homeland. On a local level, brands such as Tyskie and Timisoreana have risen from the pack under SABMiller's watch to become market leading beer brands in Poland and Romania respectively.

In the US, some analysts report that MillerCoors, SABMiller's joint venture with Molson Coors, is taking share from A-B InBev, while the group itself has reported better-than-expected progress on synergies since it began operations last year.

Then there other investments made by SABMiller in 2009, including a Black Economic Empowerment initiative in South Africa and research and development funding in the UK.

There may not have been a headline deal, but SABMiller's softly, softly approach may yet prove just as effective in yielding long-term success.