Asahi makes European bet with launch of new division as SABMiller buy closes

Japanese brewer Asahi has set up a European unit as it takes control of former SABMiller brands Peroni, Groslch and Meantime. Asahi Europe, based in Woking, near London, started operations on October 11 and is helmed by former SABMiller executive Hector Gorosabel. Gorosabel oversees six units including Asahi UK, Asahi France, Meantime UK, Italy's Birra Peroni and Koninklijke Grolsch in the Netherlands. Grolsch Canada is also part of the European set-up as control of Peroni and Groslch in the US has passed to Molson Coors.

Asahi Europe also takes over distribution in its markets of other former SABMiller brands such as Pilsner Urquell and Kozel until new owner Anheuser-Busch InBev finds a buyer for them. AB InBev acquired the brands as part of its takeover of SABMiller but is to divest them all to appease regulators.

According to Bernstein analyst Trevor Stirling, the only SAB European business to be retained by AB InBev will be Compañia Cervecera de Canarias on the Canary Islands.

A spokesperson for Asahi UK told today that the unit takes over the responsibilities of Miller Brands UK, SABMiller's former UK hub. Asahi will continue to distribute Pilsner Urquell, Kozel and the nine other brands in the Miller Brands UK portfolio.

Grolsch, however, will continue to be distributed by Molson Coors in the UK as part of an existing agreement. Asahi still owns the rights to the brand.

Asahi Europe will only distribute SABMiller's former Central and Eastern Europe beer brands in the markets it operates in. In other European markets, they are part of so-called "hold-separate" companies, which see new owner AB InBev hold economic rights to the brands but have no control over them. The formation of a hold-separate company is a standard process for this type of situation and avoids giving a new owner the chance to run down brands that are slated to become competitive rivals.