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Asahi expansion in New Zealand gears up


Wednesday 17th August 2011

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Japanese brewer Asahi Group Holdings is reported to be close to buying New Zealand's Independent Liquor, pitting it in New Zealand against Japan's Kirin Holdings.

Asahi, which has just taken over juice company Charlie's Group, may announce the purchase of Independent Liquor for $NZ1.5 billion as early as tomorrow, Bloomberg reported, citing people with knowledge of the matter.

The transaction would be Asahi’s biggest, Bloomberg said.

Independent Liquor was sold to private equity investors in 2006 after founder Michael Erceg died in a helicopter crash in November 2005. The consortium led by Pacific Equity Partners beat off brewers such as Lion Nathan and DB Group owner, Asia Pacific Breweries at the time.

Japanese beverage companies are expanding abroad because their domestic market is declining and the high yen has made offshore assets cheaper.

Lion Nathan, once controlled by Sir Douglas Myers, is now wholly owned by Kirin and its New Zealand business is branded as Lion.

This month Lion said its beer, spirits and wine volumes in New Zealand remained stable and revenues increased 4.4 percent to $NZ356.6 million in the six months to March 31 from a year ago.

Wine brands acquired from Pernod Ricard were included for the first time.

Lion said challenging market conditions persisted due to the weak New Zealand economy and ongoing cautiousness among consumers. This was intensified by the devastating Christchurch earthquake in February.

Lion’s beer volumes in New Zealand fell 5.2 percent on a year earlier but some of this was due the timing of Easter in each year, while sales of spirits and RTDs declined 2.1 percent.

Independent Liquor is focused ready-to-drink (RTD) category with 60 percent of its sales in Australia and 40 percent in New Zealand. Across the two countries, white and dark spirit RTDs represent 65 percent of sales.

Independent Liquor also produces a selection of beer, wine and spirits under its own brands, and distributes licensed brands in some markets, according to its website.

Asahi also bought Schweppes Australia in 2009, and in July it agreed to buy mineral water and juice maker P&N Beverages Australia, the third largest soft drinks company by volume in Australia.

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