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Graham Mackay On The Global Beer Industry


SABMiller head Graham Mackay had a major interview in The Times yesterday. This is the man who told us the craft beer surge would fade: “It’s inevitable.” And after almost every beer blogger and beer website forum denizen had at him, he passed from their consciousness. He’s big beer, after all.

Mackay is one of the brightest people in the business, a business that is filled with very bright people, especially at the top. I found the interview — including a casually tossed-off T.S. Eliot quote — fascinating.

Especially this, about the global consolidation of the beer market. I’ve marked the parts I find particularly interesting.

Two decades later the globalised market now looks like a two-horse race, with Anheuser-Busch Inbev leading SAB Miller, and Heineken and Carlsberg trailing behind. Many have made fortunes – the only real doubt is whether consumers have benefited.
Mackay is adamant they have. “It’s resulted in better-quality products and more choice. People talk about the dead hand of globalised brand uniformity, but I don’t think that’s true in beer. Stonking great global brands haven’t worked. Heineken is the most global brand and that’s under 25% of its owner’s volumes.” [Bear in mind: despite having a number of large brands, neither SABMiller nor ABIB have a single dominant brand.]
And now, he predicts, consolidation will slow as the key players circle each other. “What stops the biggest groups consolidating is the desire of their owners. Most are in family hands. We are unusual in having an open share register.”

That said, Mackay politely refused significant comment on whether SABMiller was interested in buying FEMSA, which is clearly up for acquisition. A guy’s got to keep his hand in, after all.

What’s it mean? Is Mackay right, is global consolidation about over? Not quite, with substantial pieces like FEMSA and Grupo Modelo still on the board and likely available, but close. As he says, major players like Carlsberg and Heineken are not very likely to be bought because of their ownership

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Friday, January 19, 1:32 pm

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