Analysis: In the Meantime…from frying pans to fires

By Jessica Mason

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Ab inbev

Who will get Meantime next?
Who will get Meantime next?
A lot can change in a few months.

Meantime has only been under the control of SABMiller since May​ and, following its agreement last month on the £71bn acquisition of SABMiller by AB InBev​, from that point it looked like it was in the clutches of the global brewer.

But now, AB InBev has confirmed its intentions to explore the sale of a number of SABMiller’s premium brands​. These include Peroni and Grolsch and, also Meantime.

I bet Nick Miller and his crew at Meantime don’t know whether to exhale a sigh of relief at the prospect of another sale, or whether this throws all the daggers up in the air again. For pub and beer loving people, it makes us feel a bit grateful, a bit watchful​ and a bit nervous.

We care about the beer, you see. We also care about what happens when big business deals see small (once independents) bandied back and forth like trading cards.

But something doesn’t seem to make sense here.

And, I’m reminded by Jonny Forsyth, senior global drinks analyst at Mintel, how “it doesn't fit with AB InBev's strategy - at least in the US - of buying up successful, regional craft brands.” So, why would ABInBev do this? Why let them go?

AB InBev said the approach underlined its commitment to “promptly and proactively address potential regulatory considerations”.

But, as Forsyth points out, “there is no issue with competition in the UK - and even if there was, Meantime's volumes are so small that it would make no difference.”

It is for lines such as those from AB InBev above that we can be assured the company is behaving by the book with its trademark corporate staunch and withdrawn commentary. Let it be said that it is because Meantime has never exuded this kind of bark that fans of its beers are rather loyal. Oh, and because they really do like the beer. It’s all about what’s in the glass.

Fans of beer respect and love good brewers, you see. But love is not always requited. Mostly it's a rocky road. That has been well documented. In a funny way, it's the same with beer.

“Meantime has huge potential as a 'scaleable' global craft brand. After all, this is a quintessentially English (and Greenwich in London no less) craft beer. This makes it a very attractive proposition to aspirational beer drinkers in Europe, Asia, etc,” says Forsyth. We’re in agreement here that there isn’t a clear picture on what happened before this decision was made.

If it is true, is there something we just do not know?

Forsyth ponders as to whether AB InBev has had an offer it can't refuse given the debt context of the merger. Or maybe the company just has a very different regional strategy in Europe to in America. Yet, admittedly, we’re seeing craft growing fast in Europe so it doesn’t really make heaps of sense from the outside.

In the meantime, we're not overly concerned with the clunky agenda. Instead, we’re wondering how Meantime feels.

Out from the frying pan and into the fire, imaginably.

There are certainly a lot of brewers who would be interested.

Forsyth's bet would be Carlsberg who has a strong European distribution and is increasingly focusing on craft in this region and gives a nod to its tie-up with Mikkeller.

I'm indifferent. I don't really mind who gets it. As long as they remember all of the reasons why it was a good purchase in the first place and don't mess too much with the beer.

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