I can't have been the only one who last year exclaimed “Well, fuck!” upon learning that the same people who fucked Staropramen—and other brands in several countries—were going to own Czech Republic's flagship beer.
Fear no more!
As, I reckon, most of you must are already aware, in order to placate those pesky EU anti-trust regulators, ABIB has undertaken to divest a bunch assets in Eastern Europe, among which is Plzeňský Prazdroj—apparently, getting rid of Grolsch, Peroni and Meantime was not enough.
What I find most interesting is that this is basically the same thing ABIB did back in late 2009, when they sold to an investment fund a bunch of breweries in Eastern Europe that included Staropramen—which happened about a year after the merger with AB and, if I recall correctly, at about the same time that rumours about their interest in SAB-Miller were beginning to go around. That can't be a coincidence.
This shouldn't surprise anyone, really. The ageing Central and Eastern European markets are stagnant at best, and, save a couple of exceptions, there aren't brands with any value outside their respective backyards—'I really fancy a glass of that famous, generic Hungarian Lager,' said no one ever. It's the developing countries the Brazilians are after, which still have massive potential for growth.
The question is who will buy the package. The other big boys—MC, Heineken and Carlsberg—are out of the question; unless they're themselves willing to divest in the same region, which I doubt. The money seems to be either on Asahi, who've already committed to buy Peroni et al, or an investment fund, like in 2009.
When the news of the mega-merger came out, some people—myself included—speculated whether the new conglomerate would shut down one of the four breweries that Prazdroj operates, with Kozel being the most likely candidate. We had no basis for that, other than it being what corporations of that ilk tend to do—ask Heineken, for instance. Will that be the case with these yet-to-be-known new owners?
If I had to choose, I'd pick Asahi. They are more likely to be in for the long run (and they are already in the business of beer), whereas an investment fund will probably restructure the package in order to sell it for a profit a few years later, just like CVC did.
Brace yourselves, interesting times are coming.
PS: It's really amusing to see the mental contortions of those crafotphiles who really, really hate it when Craft breweries are sold to macros, but see no problem with they loose their “Indie” status to a investment funds.