Lion Nathan remains upbeat about its Australian beer business, while acknowledging that New Zealand would continue to be tough. At the group's AGM today (15 December), CEO Rob Murray outlined plans for fiscal 2006 for the company's business.

In Australia, Murray said that Lion Nathan will continue to invest in innovation on its core brands. In the last month, the company's Tooheys Extra Dry brand has been made available on tap in the country. Murray added that the wine and beer group plans to invest to accelerate the growth of its national and premium brands. Lion Nathan will also enter the dark spirit, RTD market in Australia.

In New Zealand, however, Murray conceded that things were tougher. The on-trade has been hit by legislation including anti-smoking laws, Murray noted. "It (the Smoke Free Environments Act) was introduced very hastily … and the tap beer market suffered as a result," Murray said.

The company affirmed that it expected earnings growth from its Australian beer business this financial year, while New Zealand would be flat in fiscal year 2006.