The international brewers Interbrew and Lion Nathan have entered into an exclusive long term agreement in Australia for Lion Nathan to brew, distribute and market Interbrew's premium beer Beck's in the country.

The agreement supersedes an existing arrangement, which has been in place for more than three years.

The agreement follows strong growth for Beck's in Australia both on and off premise under Lion Nathan's stewardship, a statement said.

Worldwide, in the first quarter of 2004, Beck's organic volume grew by more than 19%. This German beer is sold in over 120 countries, with global sales volumes reaching 5 million hl 2003.

Commenting on the new arrangement, Lion Nathan Australia's managing director Andrew Reeves said: "International brands have played an important role in the growth of the premium segment and we are proud of the progress we have made in bringing this outstanding brand to Australian beer drinkers."

"Given this success, we were keen to secure the future of the brand in Australia. This important agreement enables Lion Nathan to develop and implement a long term strategy for Beck's in Australia, which will fully realize the brand's potential. Beck's offers significant growth prospects and we are delighted with the opportunity to take the brand to the next level," Reeves continued.

"As the number of beers in the average beer drinker's portfolio increases, it is essential that we deliver a broad choice of beers, including local, national and international brands. This agreement is a key component of the Lion Nathan premium brand strategy going forward," added Reeves.

Interbrew senior vice president global exports & licenses, Tony Desmet said: "We are delighted with the work Lion Nathan has done on Beck's® for the past three years.  This agreement further strengthens the already strong relationship we have in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.  We are confident that the Lion Nathan-Interbrew partnership will continue to deliver significant mutual benefits as Beck's® grows in Australia."