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Monday, November 23, 2009

Graham Mackay on the global beer industry

SABMiller head Graham Mackay had a major interview in The Times yesterday. This is the man who told us the craft beer surge would fade: "It's inevitable." And after almost every beer blogger and beer website forum denizen had at him, he passed from their consciousness. He's big beer, after all.

Mackay is one of the brightest people in the business, a business that is filled with very bright people, especially at the top. I found the interview -- including a casually tossed-off T.S. Eliot quote -- fascinating.

Especially this, about the global consolidation of the beer market. I've marked the parts I find particularly interesting.
Two decades later the globalised market now looks like a two-horse race, with Anheuser-Busch Inbev leading SAB Miller, and Heineken and Carlsberg trailing behind. Many have made fortunes - the only real doubt is whether consumers have benefited.
Mackay is adamant they have. "It's resulted in better-quality products and more choice. People talk about the dead hand of globalised brand uniformity, but I don't think that's true in beer. Stonking great global brands haven't worked. Heineken is the most global brand and that's under 25% of its owner's volumes." [Bear in mind: despite having a number of large brands, neither SABMiller nor ABIB have a single dominant brand.]
And now, he predicts, consolidation will slow as the key players circle each other. "What stops the biggest groups consolidating is the desire of their owners. Most are in family hands. We are unusual in having an open share register."
That said, Mackay politely refused significant comment on whether SABMiller was interested in buying FEMSA, which is clearly up for acquisition. A guy's got to keep his hand in, after all.

What's it mean? Is Mackay right, is global consolidation about over? Not quite, with substantial pieces like FEMSA and Grupo Modelo still on the board and likely available, but close. As he says, major players like Carlsberg and Heineken are not very likely to be bought because of their ownership. Where to go from here?


jp said...

Mackey is definitely of the brightest manages out there he is one of the rare breed who combines impressive industry expertise ( he knows the brewing business as good as anybody) with excellent management skills two qualities that are not seen together as much as one would think. I am not sure why people would get *issy about his craft beer surge will eventually fade comment. What he has said is a truism for just about every other market I can think of It is called the law of diminishing returns. It probably has some more room to run considering what a small share of the overall brewing market it currently maintains but eventually the surge will fade and maintain a steady state just like it had for cell phones, automobiles, toasters and liposuction.

Anonymous said...

JP, Does Mackey opine on the potential for Ballantine Ale to take over the east coast as THE major player in the beer market in the upcoming years? Who IS the ale man?

jp said...

you do not have to be a Mackay to know that Ballantine's is America's best selling ale. Body Purity Flavor The Ale Man is every one in three I believe

The Professor said...

Ballantine Ale has _no_ potential anymore for _anything_ unless they miraculously start brewing it to the original formula.
Falstaff managed to do it authentically for 10+ years after Ballantine closed...why can't Pabst/Miller? (likely because they don't really care).

The mention of the name makes me nostalgic...It was a damned good beer that stood out in its time, and which I'm convinced would hold its own today.