Banned at home, Pakistan brewery seizes Hollywood moment
By Randy Fabi
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (Reuters) - What have Demi Moore, Bruce Willis, underage drinking and Pakistan's only beer maker got in common?
It was the arrest of the Hollywood stars' daughter in New York with a can of Murree Brewery's beer last June that propelled the company out of obscurity and into the spotlight.
Inundated with emails asking about its beer, Murree Brewery seized on the free publicity to launch expansion plans outside the Muslim nation, where alcohol is banned and those that do drink can become targets of Taliban militants and other Islamist fundamentalists.
Five months since the arrest, the 150-year-old company says it has lined up distributors that could see its flagship beer arrive on liquor store shelves in the United States and Dubai as early as the first quarter of next year.
"Demi Moore and Bruce Willis' daughter gave us multi-million dollars worth of publicity by default. We plan to go to the United States and make a queue to hug both the daughter and the mother," Sabih ur Rehman, special assistant to the chief executive, joked with Reuters.
Murree Brewery, established in 1860 by British colonial rulers to supply beer to their troops, is desperately looking for business overseas to hedge against its uncertain domestic market. Prohibition was imposed in Pakistan in 1977, and non-Muslims and foreigners must obtain a government permit to purchase alcohol at designated retailers, mainly upscale hotels.
It also produces a line of juices and non-alcoholic drinks, but is prohibited from advertising its beer, whisky, gin and other liquor products.
Relying on word of mouth and an influx of thirsty diplomats and foreign investors, annual alcohol sales have grown an average of 20 percent over the past five years, reaching $26.8 million in the 2012 financial year. The company's stock is up 175 percent so far this year, trading at 160 rupees on November 13, far outpacing the 42 percent rise in the Karachi Stock Exchange benchmark 100-share index. Continued...