Interbrew, a giant lurking in the shadows

Interbrew is a corporate oddball of the global business scene. Secretive and aggressive, the Belgian company has its roots in the 14th century and remains family-controlled despite a recent stock market float in Europe.

It has expanded rapidly in the past few years, rising from a niche player known chiefly for its Stella Artois brand, to become the world's third-largest brewer. And yet it remains a shadowy figure to those who drink its products.

In the UK for example, Interbrew has acquired the Bass and Whitbread brewing interests but appears to care little for how the public perceives it. In its home market of Belgium, where it is the leading brewer by a mile, it has been fined for abuse of a dominant market position. It is not the behaviour you expect from a consumer industries company where image is usually everything.

The expansion of Interbrew has been astonishing. As recently as the mid-Nineties it was operating in only half-a-dozen countries and was heavily reliant on its Stella brand. Now it is a global powerhouse with beers that include Labatts and Becks.

Its aggressive empire-building included a blunt instrument assault on the UK market where it fell foul of competition rules which prevent companies from achieving market that could affect prices and damage consumer choice.

It bought Whitbread for £400m in May 2000. It was a business Interbrew knew well as Whitbread had been brewing Stella under licence in the UK for years. A month later it made an even more audacious move with the £2.3bn acquisition of Bass Breweries, which brought with it Carling Black Label, Britain's best-selling beer.

But the deal was a fiasco. It would have given Interbrew a 32 per cent share of the UK market and stepped into a regulatory wrangle that cost the company a fortune. The deal was blocked by the competition authorities, then that was overturned. Eventually Interbrew was allowed to keep Bass Brewers, but was forced to sell off Carling, its key asset.

Interbrew was formed in Leuven, Belgium in 1366. In the early 18th century, Sebastian Artois, a master brewer, bought the company that remained in his family for more than 100 years. But the Stella Artois name appeared only in 1926 when the brewery introduced a Christmas beer which used the word Stella, Latin for star. The business is controlled by three Belgian families Interbrew's chief executive is an Englishman, Hugo Powell, a public school boy, who joined in 1995 after Interbrew's takeover of Labatt's, the largest deal in Belgian corporate history. Now 57, Mr Powell was born in India to British parents, educated at Charterhouse school and moved to Canada in 1971.

He is expected to push for further expansion, and the leaked documents on Interbrew's apparent interest in South African Breweries were seen as part of ambition. But SAB's merger with Miller Brewing of the United States may have pushed the company out of Interbrew's reach.

Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Junior Research Analyst - Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £25K: SThree: SThree Group has been well estab...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform