Coca-Cola might be about to welcome a "Trojan horse" into the fold

Coca-Cola might be about to welcome a "Trojan horse" into the fold

Anheuser-Busch InBev's takeover of SABMiller could allow it to try on the role of a Coca-Cola bottler ahead of making a move for the soft drinks company, an analyst has said.

The SABMiller deal, which is awaiting regulatory approval, is a chance for AB InBev to "kick the tyres" of Coca-Cola, according to Nomura's Ian Shackleton. He said this week that the takeover provides a "Trojan horse" opportunity for AB InBev, similar to a distribution partnership predecessor company InBev signed with Anheuser-Busch ahead of its acquisition of the Budweiser owner.

In 2006, InBev became Anheuser-Busch's US distributor for import beers such as Stella Artois and Beck's.

"We believe this [distribution deal] was an important stepping stone towards the bid in 2008 that InBev made for Anheuser," Shackleton said. "In the same way, we would expect A-B Inbev to gain access to Coca-Cola in Atlanta as a major bottler."

According to Shackleton, A-B InBev is likely to take over SABMiller's estimated 5% share of Coca-Cola volumes, much of which comes through its 24% stake in Anadolu Efes, owner of Coca-Cola Icecek. SABMiller is also awaiting the green light for the creation of Coca-Cola Beverages Africa, which will be made up of bottling operations in 12 markets across southern and east Africa.

A-B InBev is already a bottler for Coca-Cola rival PepsiCo across Latin America.

Shackleton said there is "a medium-term risk" of A-B InBev making a bid for Coca-Cola.