Molson Coors is expected to get approval to merge its US operations with those of SABMiller within the next few weeks, it has been reported. The proposed merger would improve profitability and pave the way for a stronger competitor to current US market leader Anheuser-Busch. Leo Kiely, chief executive of Molson Coors, has been in London this week to discuss merger plans with SABMiller. The two brewers agreed last year to combine their US brewing operations in a new company, Miller-Coors. Anheuser-Busch has profit margins of nearly 17 per cent, nearly double those of Coors or Miller, and controls nearly half of the US beer market. Recent speculation that Anheuser-Busch may be bought by another larger brewer, such as Belgium’s InBev, remain “just rumours”, said Mr Kiely, adding that the St Louis-based brewer would continue to be a formidable competitor. “Anheuser-Busch is a big, strong company.” Once its merger is approved, MillerCoors expects to build sales of upmarket niche brands such as Peroni Nastro Azzuro and Pilsner Urquell (both owned by SABMiller) in bars and restaurants by training a specialist sales force. It has taken Molson Coors more than a decade to make its home-grown craft beer, Blue Moon, a success. It sells about 1m barrels every year in the US. But the brewer is now capitalising on rising demand for specialist beers. US sales of the leading brewers’ low-alcohol beers have been rising over the past 12 months, with supermarket sales up 1.4 per cent to the end of April, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights, the industry newsletter. Both Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller have been losing share to Molson Coors, which increased sales of its low-alcohol brands by more than 7 per cent. Molson Coors plans to take the Blue Moon brand, currently only sold in North America, to the UK this year. Mr Kiely also forecast that the British beer market, which is in decline, would revive as brewers became more innovative. “In the long run, I do believe the UK beer business can return to growth.”

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