Heineken has bought into a Tunisian drinks group to bolster its presence in the north African country.

The Dutch brewing giant has snapped up a 49.99% stake in Tunisia's Société de Production et de Distribution des Boissons (SPDB).

The venture will spend around EUR27m (US$36m) on building a local brewery that will produce and distribute Heineken and local Tunisian brands throughout the country.

The brewery, to be based in Grombalia, a town 30km from the capital Tunis, will have an initial capacity of 200,000 hectolitres. The plant is expected to be up and running in early 2008.

Tom de Man, Heineken's regional president in Africa and the Middle East, said yesterday (19 December): "The Tunisian beer market offers a good opportunity to further build our positive organic volume growth in the region.

"Tourism is expected to be a primary driver of sustainable economic growth and creates an opportunity to develop the profitable premium beer segment, in which the Heineken brand will play a leading role."

Around 1m hectolitres of beer are drunk in Tunisia each year. Per capita consumption is estimated at around 10 litres.

Due to import restrictions, the Heineken brand has only been available in Tunisia through duty-free outlets.