A leading global beverage giant, SABMiller, has announced plans to acquire a small London-based brewery as it tries to score a bigger foothold in the United Kingdom's rapidly growing craft beer scene.
As Europe's beer drinkers increasingly turn to local microbrewers to fill their pints, beverage giant SABMiller said Friday that it would snatch up the popular British craft beer maker Meantime Brewing Company.
Meantime's beer shipments were up 58 percent last year, compared to a mere 1 percent uptick in sales for all UK beers. That coincides with a marked rise in the number of neighborhood breweries that have popped up in London in the last 10 years - from less than five to more than 40.
"Meantime is a pioneer in British modern craft beer, giving SABMiller an entry point into the fastest-growing segment of the UK beer market," SABMiller said in a statement. The company did not disclose an amount for the purchase.
Craft beer is by no means a European phenomenon, although the Brits have more breweries per capita than any other country in the world. In the UK, craft beer accounts for nearly 10 of overall beer sales; in the US, it's 11 percent, according to the Brewers Association, an organization that represents American craft brewers.
It all began in a shed
Founded by a group of friends in a former tramshed in south London in 1999, Meantime has gone on to be a household name in many British pubs, known for its London Lager and London Pale Ale. SABMiller owns brands such as Miller Lite, Peroni and Grolsh.
Big beverage companies have been trying to capitalize on this trend, purchasing lesser-known brewers to beef up their portfolios with more authentic tastes. But some proponents of craft beer are worried that acquisitions like this one could detract from the appeal of locally made brews once they begin to be produced for mass markets.
In southern England, one brew master from the Lovibonds brewery questioned whether Meantime could still be considered a craft beer brand at all after SABMiller's move.
"I probably won't be drinking Meantime anymore," he said.
For its part, Meantime's chief executive, Nick Miller, tried to dispel criticism that he had sold out. Miller joined Meantime from SABMiller in 2011.
"SABMiller shares our passion for putting great beer first," he said.
cjc/hg (Reuters, SABMiller.com)