Coca-Cola Amatil has struck a deal to handle three flagship SABMiller brands in Australia amid slowing soft drinks sales and a booming demand for premium beer in the country.

The two companies said today (10 August) that they have formed a joint venture to sell and distribute Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Miller Genuine Draft and Pilsner Urquell.

The venture, Pacific Beverages, is expected to be up and running by Christmas and aims to tap into the growing popularity for premium beer in Australia.

Import beers have driven a surge in premium beer sales in the country, with the segment growing by 15% a year for the last five years.

A Coke Amatil spokesperson told just-drinks from Sydney that the company had the "best distribution capability" in Australia and its access to hotels, bars and restaurants would drive sales of the three brands.

"Beer is a similar product to soft drinks and we'll be serving to the same consumers, our core market of 18- to 29-year-old men. Beer is another great product to add to our product line," she said.

"The soft drinks category isn't a mature market yet but growth has been slow and steady. The Australian premium beer market is a very healthy growth market."

The spokesperson said Coke Amatil chief executive Terry Davis has always been keen to branch into alcohol but denied the SABMiller deal means the company's stable was becoming too big to handle. "We've wanted to stretch our beverage portfolio as far as we could and provide a beverage for every occasion. We're not spreading ourselves too thinly."

SABMiller is set to be responsible for marketing the three brands, which already have a "tiny" presence in Australia, a spokesman for the brewing giant said.

He said the deal meant distribution of the three beers would be brought under Pacific Beverages from three different distributors.

"We're hoping that the Coke distribution network will be able to provide a good framework to enable us to build a marketing capability behind it, much like with Miller Brands in the UK. It's a similar transcation."

Last year, the brewer set up Miller Brands to handle its stable of premium beers in the UK.

Avi Mervis, formerly managing director of SABMiller's operations in Russia, will lead Pacific Beverages, SABMiller added.