SAB snaps up Meantime as 'sell-out' row brews

Meantime’s Greenwich brewery will be expanded as well as becoming a product development centre for SABMiller’s European business

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The head of the pioneering independent brewery Meantime rejected claims that it had sold out after the world’s second-biggest brewer, the Grolsch and Peroni maker SABMiller, bought the company to cash in on the craft beer boom that has swept the UK.

Meantime began life in an old tram shed in south-east London in 1999 after founder Alastair Hook – a graduate of Germany’s world-leading Weihenstephan brewing school – scraped together cash from friends and family to develop beers with more intense, cosmopolitan flavours using hops from overseas. Aided by tax breaks in 2002, a wave of smaller breweries has since sprung up around the country.

SAB was attracted to Meantime by the rapid growth of craft beers – the market is currently growing at around 60 per cent a year – as well as its premium pricing and wider appeal to women and younger drinkers. It plans to expand the brand beyond its London heartland to other UK cities as well as overseas. SAB’s European managing director, Sue Clark, said: “We want to change the way people think about beer and bring beer to a wider number of consumers on a wider number of occasions.”

But the deal inevitably drew fire from beer lovers online, one labelling Meantime a “bloody sell-out”. Its chief executive, Nick Miller, who worked at SABMiller until 2011, said: “The integrity of the brand is paramount to their [SABMiller’s] philosophy of how they brew sell and market beer. That is one of the attractions of this deal. You know the partner you’re marrying.”

Meantime’s Greenwich brewery will be expanded as well as becoming a product development centre for SABMiller’s European business. Mr Hook wrote on his blog yesterday: “I know some craft brewers have reservations about working with bigger brewers, but if this association means Meantime and SABMiller producing a wider range of better beer, in greater volume, served to more and more appreciative beer drinkers, my brewers and I raise our glasses to the future.”

Mr Miller and Mr Hook will stay with the business, although they declined to reveal the size of their stakes or the value of the deal.

The Scottish independent brewer BrewDog recently launched a £25m fundraiser that values the company at £300m – 116 times its current annual profit – although it is understood the Meantime deal was based on earnings multiples “considerably below” that frothy valuation.

Meantime made pre-tax profits of £571,644 on £11.5m sales in 2013, the latest year for which accounts are available. Mr Miller is likely to have made huge profits on 200,000 options he was granted at £2 a share in 2011.