A premium beer war between SABMiller and Heineken is on the cards in South Africa as both beer giants import their top brands into the country. This follows the termination of a licensing agreement between the two companies of Heineken's flagship brand.

SABMiller intends shipping in its Pilsner Urquell and Miller Genuine Draft, while Heineken will do the same with its Heineken Lager.

Heineken said today that it had looked at the situation after the SABMiller merger last year and decided that there were grounds to end the partnership in South Africa where it's Heineken Lager sells 100 000 hectolitres of premium lager.

It believed it had to take control of the destiny of the brand and could increase both its market share as well as volumes in this 24.5m-hectolitre market, in which SAB has a 98% share.

The Dutch brewing giant said it would however retain the licensing agreement with SAB regarding its 700 000 hectolitre Amstel Lager brand, because the lower margins, together with higher volumes did not make it attractive to import the beer into South Africa. SAB has had the agreement for the past 37 years.

Spokesman Albert Holtzappel said from Holland that it was premature to say who would do the distribution for Heineken in South Africa, as several options were being investigated.

This included SAB's only nominal opposition in South Africa, Namibia Breweries, which also distributes Beck's, which has a share in the Windhoek based brewery.

Holtzappel said it would take a few weeks for the company to get a marketing team into place and foresaw a slight dip in sales in the short term, but felt they could grow it in the medium to long term.

SAB spokesman Adrian Botha said Pilsner Urquell and Miller beers would be imported into South Africa within the next few months, but the idea was to start brewing them locally as soon as possible.