Belarus has emerged as an unlikely battleground for global brewers in early 2009, after Carlsberg has followed SABMiller in expressing its interest in the country's beer market.

Carlsberg's production director for Eastern Europe, Jannik Munksgaard, told a press conference in Belarus capital Minsk this week that the brewer is interested in raising its presence in the country's beer market.

"If some opportunities to increase our share in the Belarusian market are found, we will seriously consider them," said Munksgaard. His comments were confirmed to just-drinks today (30 January) by a Carlsberg spokesperson.

The spokesperson added, however, that this can be applied to all Carlsberg's markets. "We want to grow - organically or by acquisitions if the growth will be profitable. We want to become the fastest growing global brewery."

Munksgaard's comments add to evidence that international brewers have revived their interest in Belarus.

Carlsberg already owns a 30% stake in the country's third largest brewer, Olivaria Brewery, via its Baltic Beverages Holding venture. Olivaria has a market share of around 18%, according to state figures.

SABMiller representatives met with the Belarus government earlier this month. The brewer told just-drinks that it has been "exploring opportunities" in the country, but said that its interest remained "preliminary".

Following the meeting with SAB, Belarus state media arm, the Belarusian Telegraph Agency, said that Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky was ready to allow international brewers to invest.

In 2007, SABMiller, Heineken and Carlsberg were all rumoured to be interested in state-owned Krinitsa Brewery Holding, which is estimated to hold a 40% market share.

Alcoholic drinks sales in Belarus grew by 13% in 2007, according to the latest figures from market research group Euromonitor. It said that beer showed the highest growth and held the largest potential.

Official state figures released this month said that beer volumes in Belarus grew by 5% in 2007, with a strong double-digit rise in imports.