SABMiller plans bigger China push

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The Independent Online

SABMiller, the brewing group, said yesterday it was planning to launch one of its top international brands into China to try to crack what is the world's biggest beer market.

SABMiller, the brewing group, said yesterday it was planning to launch one of its top international brands into China to try to crack what is the world's biggest beer market.

Jonathan Kirby, the finance director of SABMiller's Africa and Asia division, said expanding in the 250 million hectolitre market was difficult while it remained dominated by local brands. "There is no national beer brand in China, and the leading brand has less than a 5 per cent share. We are looking at launching one of our existing brands there," Mr Kirby said.

The group owns the Miller and Miller Lite brands, as well as Nastro Azzurro, Pilsner Urquell and Castle lager. It is carrying out research to try to discover which brand would be best for the Chinese market, and is hoping to launch a national campaign this spring.

SABMiller has a joint venture with a Chinese brewing company, China Resource Enterprise, through which it has gained a 12 per cent share in the Chinese beer market. This makes it the country's second biggest brewer.

But last year it was pipped to a deal to buy its rival brewer, Harbin, by Anheuser Busch, the owner of Budweiser, which will increase its competition.

SABMiller has since announced plans to build a brewery in the affluent Guangdong province, but said it wanted a bigger presence in China. Mr Kirby said: "We are still looking at bolt-on acquisitions that will give us exposure in other areas."

News of the brand launch in China came as SABMiller announced strong volume growth over the third quarter of its financial year. A buoyant economy and good weather in South Africa - the group's core market - helped lift volumes by 4 per cent over its key summer period.

The group is also seeing signs of turnaround in Miller, the US brewing business it bought in 2003. Sales of Miller Lite, its low-carb beer, rose 1.5 per cent in the last nine months of 2004. Sales in Poland, Russia and Romania are also growing strongly, up 6 per cent in the last three months of 2004.

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