Big beer merger could ripple across wider beverage sector

Fri Sep 18, 2015 6:16pm EDT
 
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By Anjali Athavaley and Lauren Hirsch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Anheuser-Busch InBev's (ABI.BR: Quote) prospective deal for SABMiller PLC SAB.L is expected to ripple across other consumer industries in the next few years, from soda makers and bottlers to snack manufacturers.

If AB InBev's initial approach to SABMiller succeeds, the resulting brewer, with a $275 billion market capitalization, could eventually buy Coca-Cola Co (KO.N: Quote) or PepsiCo (PEP.N: Quote), analysts said. That would break down longstanding U.S. barriers between the manufacture and sale of alcohol and soft drinks.

AB InBev is backed by private equity firm 3G Capital, known for a relentless focus on trimming corporate fat.

Coke or Pepsi could represent a fresh source of corporate bloat for 3G and its Brazilian stewards to target while also opening up opportunities to combine distribution channels, analysts said.

More consolidation within the packaged goods industry is already expected following the July merger of Kraft Foods Group Inc and ketchup maker H.J. Heinz Co, backed by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc BRKa.N and 3G.

While Coca-Cola, with a market value of $171 billion, is too big for AB InBev to buy, a larger, integrated combination of AB InBev and SABMiller could be well positioned to acquire Coca-Cola in three to four years, an industry banker said.

Coke's size would become less of a hurdle to a potential deal over time, analysts said.

"Because companies are getting bigger with this potential acquisition, they’re allowed to dream even bigger," said Ali Dibadj, an analyst at Sanford Bernstein in an interview. In an earlier research note, Dibadj also said the combined entity could buy Pepsi's beverage business, with Kraft-Heinz potentially buying its Frito-Lay snacks business.   Continued...

 
A bartender serves a beer produced by brewing company SAB Miller at a bar in Cape Town, September 16, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings