Australia’s largest beer company Carlton & United Breweries has made another craft beer acquisition, buying Gold Coast-based Balter Brewing Co from founders including surfing champions Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson.
Balter was established in 2016 and has been one of the fastest-growing brands in an increasingly crowded craft beer segment producing overall growth rates of 10 to 15 per cent, at a time when many mainstream beer brands are in reverse.
Balter chief executive and co-founder Ant Macdonald said the CUB buyout would help Balter lift capacity at its Gold Coast brewery and drive the next phase of growth without compromising the ethos behind the brand.
“We’re a brand which has high aspirations,” he said. Mr Macdonald said Balter had been producing year-on-year growth of 60 per cent.
Co-founder Mick Fanning, a three-time world surfing champion, said Balter had set out to create a “fun” brand from the outset but had always been deadly serious behind the scenes about building a strong business.
“Each and every day you just want to better yourself,” he said on Thursday.
The fiercely-competitive drive from being an elite surfer had spilled over into the beer business, but the momentum was also helped along by the sheer joy of working closely with ”mates” to fulfil a dream.
“That’s the culture we’ve built,” Mr Fanning said.
Mr Fanning became even more famous outside his sport in 2015 when he fought off a shark while competing in a surfing competition at Jeffreys Bay off the coast of South Africa. The television broadcast footage of Mr Fanning punching the shark was viewed by tens of millions of people around the world.
Mr Fanning declined to specify what his personal stake in Balter had been. He said his role at Balter was multi-faceted. “I’m sort of behind the scenes,” he said.
“I also sort of joke around that I’m a cheerleader too”.
The Balter acquisition comes just a week before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is scheduled to announce on December 12 whether it will force any divestments in Japanese giant Asahi’s proposed $16 billion buyout of CUB.
CUB chief executive Peter Filipovic said Balter had strong appeal with consumers and CUB would ensure that it maintained its identity as extra resources were invested behind the brand. He said the ACCC had already cleared the Balter acquisition.
He said the Balter management team would stay on to drive the business, of which CUB has acquired 100 per cent.
“What we are looking to do is scale up,” Mr Filipovic said.
CUB has been active on the acquisition front in craft beer, buying 4 Pines in Sydney and Pirate Life in Adelaide in quick succession in 2017 to try and re-invigorate sales as its flagship mainstream beer brands like Victoria Bitter and Carlton Draught struggled to deliver growth.
Recipe for success
Mr Filipovic said CUB believed it had found the right ”recipe for success” in nurturing craft beer brands but giving them extra financial and distribution grunt.
The proposed buyout of CUB by Asahi was announced in July.
Asahi bought Queensland’s Green Beacon in August this year to bolster its craft beer operations in Australia, which also include the Mountain Goat and Cricketers Arms brands.
CUB’s main rival in mainstream beer, the Kirin-owned Lion, last month went offshore, with its craft beer division Little World Beverages buying one of the United States’ largest craft beer businesses, New Belgium Brewing, based in Colorado.
Balter boss Mr Macdonald said the company had delivered robust growth and was now ready to enter the next phase. He said Balter had in its five-year plan that is wanted to reach volumes of 20 million litres, but he emphasised that CUB would be taking a hands off approach to the day-to-day running of the business.
“For us the culture doesn’t change, the beer doesn’t change,” Mr Macdonald said.
CUB already holds a 48.8 per cent market share in beer in Australia, and with the addition of Asahi’s estimated 1.2 per cent share via the Asahi and Peroni beer brands, it will have a stranglehold on the market, posing a dilemma for the ACCC.
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