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Business

Oetker Gulps Down Brau und Brunnen

Germany's largest food producer, Oetker, announced Friday it will take over brewer Brau und Brunnen, making the company Germany's top beer producer. It's the latest in a series of mergers in Germany's brewing industry.

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Oetker's Ulrich Kallmeyer, left, and Brau und Brunnen CEO Michael Hollmann.

Oetker has bought 62 percent stake in Brau und Brunnen from HypoVereinsbank (HVB), Germany's second biggest bank, for € 220 million ($283 million).

"Pilsner goes nicely with pudding and pizza," said Ulrich Kallmeyer, one of family-owned Oetker's top executives.

Brau und Brunnen, which has brand names like Jever, Tucher and Berliner Pilsner under its roof, had a turnover of € 578 million in 2002. "We are happy to be able to sell at a good price," a HVB spokesman said. Oetker also announced its intention of launching a takeover bid for the remaining Brau und Brunnen shares for a unit price of € 80.

Germany's beer market, Europe's largest, is the only one on the continent where such takeovers are still possible, according to experts.

Almost 1,300 breweries still exist in the country, the most fragmented market in Europe. Together, they produce roughly as much beer as U.S. brewery giant Anheuser-Bush alone. Even Oetker, which will now control about 15 percent of the German market, dwarfs in comparison to the makers of Bud or SAB Miller, the second largest brewery in the world.

Foreigners get thirsty for German beer

Giants such as SAB Miller and Anheuser have so far stayed away from German breweries, but other foreign competitors have begun to develop a thirst for German beer. In the past four years, mergers and takeovers have begun to shake up the country's brewery scene, which remains attractive despite a recent drop in consumption.

Last year, Germans still gulped down an impressive 105 million hectoliters (2.7 billion gallons).

Oktoberfest in München

Belgian Interbrew now fills these steins at Oktoberfest.

Foreigners already control one-third of the market. In 2001, the trend began with a joint company created by Dutch Heineken and Munich's Schörghuber Group, which includes brands such as Paulaner and Kulmbacher.

The Belgian brewing giant Interbrew took the top position in Germany's beer market after buying Gilde Group, Beck's brewery in Bremen. The Belgians are also present at Munich's Oktoberfest after buying Löwenbräu and Spaten last fall.

In January, another international player entered the German beer market: Danish Carlberg Group joined forced with Germany's largest family-owned brewery, Bitburger, and bought Holsten brewery for €1 billion. At the time, Brau and Brunnen's CEO announced plans for a takeover in the coming weeks, but Oetker stopped that idea short.

Götterspeise von Dr. Oetker mit Thumbnail

"Gods' food" is what Dr. Oetker calls its answer to Jell-O.

Brau und Brunnen won't be Oetker's first venture into the brewing industry: The company already owns Radeberger Group, which includes beer brands such as DAB and Berliner Kindl. The combined company will control 15 percent of the market, according to experts.

While the move might push Oetker's traditional food sector, which includes everything from baking powder to frozen pizzas, to third place within the company, its shipping business Hamburg Süd remains the top money-maker. Oetker also owns a bank, an insurance company, a chemical plant and several luxury hotels.

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