Heineken is Finlands second biggest brewer by volume

Heineken is Finland's second biggest brewer by volume

Heineken has declined to comment on a report that it is looking to sell Finnish subsidiary Hartwall for US$790m. 

The Dutch brewer said today (4 February) it won't respond to “rumour and speculation” after the Sunday Times reported Heineken is preparing to offload the former Scottish & Newcastle-owned firm. A Hartwall spokesperson also refused to comment.

Yesterday's report claimed Heineken has hired investment bank JP Morgan to find a buyer for Hartwell, which last month announced plans to cut 8% of its workforce due to a “difficult” trading environment. Hartwall became part of Heineken in 2008 after the Dutch brewer joined forces with Carlsberg to buy and carve up UK brewer Scottish & Newcastle.

Bernstein analyst Trevor Stirling told just-drinks the newspaper report “wasn't one I was expecting” but that any sale would be due to pressure in the Finnish beer market.

“If the report is correct, this is the first time I can remember Heineken exiting a business and, in particular, exiting a business that has a decent market position,” Stirling said.

Hartwall has a 30% volume share of the beer market in Finland, second to Carlsberg-owned Sinebrychoff with 34%, Stirling said, quoting Euromonitor 2011 figures. Domestic company Olvi Oyj is third with a 22% volume share in 2011.

Stirling warned that, if Heineken is keen to sell Hartwall, it may have trouble finding a buyer in Finland's depressed market. Brewers have struggled recently with the country's state-run retail monopoly on high-alcohol beers and low-priced imports from the Baltics and Russia, he said. 

Finland's total beer volumes fell by 2% in 2011, a continuation of the sales pattern seen since 2007, according to Euromonitor.

New figures on Finland's beer market are due to be released on 21 February, the Hartwall spokesperson said.