Anheuser-Busch InBev NV Chief Executive Officer Michel Doukeris is considering a sale of some German beer brands it has owned for decades as the world’s largest brewer aims to prune less profitable businesses and trim debt.
The brewer is exploring the sale of labels such as Franziskaner Weissbier, Hasseroeder and Spaten, and the portfolio could fetch about 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion), people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information.
A shift away from Europe’s largest beer-producing country would signal that Doukeris, three months into his job, is accelerating efforts to refocus the business amid demand for newer drinks such as seltzers. Reducing the Budweiser maker’s presence in the fragmented German beer market would also help slim down the debt pile accumulated from a string of acquisitions by his predecessor, Carlos Brito, including the $100 billion-plus purchase of British brewer SABMiller in 2016.
AB InBev employs more than 2,000 people in Germany, a market made up of thousands of small regional brands vying for domestic market share. The brewer, which owns the Beck’s brewery in Bremen, has found German brands are less exportable compared to bigger labels such as Belgium’s Stella Artois or Dutch rival Heineken NV’s namesake lager.
Although Germany brews about a quarter of all beers originating from the continent, it exports less of the drink than both the Netherlands and Belgium, according to European Commission figures.
Doukeris has said that a “big revolution” is afoot in the alcohol industry, with more than 60% of growth being driven outside of beer. He’s seeking to insulate AB InBev against a stagnant performance in beer by doubling down on the company’s more nascent Cutwater Spirits canned cocktails, canned wine, e-commerce platforms and energy drink brands. Mining insights from AB InBev’s data analytics tools and delivery apps will also guide the company’s investments into new labels or future delivery ventures, Doukeris said in an interview in July.
The world’s largest brewer is working with an adviser as it explores options, the people said. Discussions are ongoing and there’s no certainty that AB InBev will decide to proceed with a sale of the German brands, according to the people.
“We continuously assess our options to optimize our business and drive growth,” a spokesperson for Belgium-based AB InBev said in an emailed statement.
Brito made some initial steps toward debt reduction in his final years at the brewer, selling its Australian operations after earlier leading an initial public offering of its Asia Pacific division and then shedding a minority stake in its U.S. canning plants. Besides leaving AB InBev deeply in debt, the SABMiller deal made the company even more exposed to a beverage category that’s losing out to spirits and wine in developed countries. Its shares are down almost 60% since the deal closed.
AB InBev inherited many of its German beers from an earlier transaction with Interbrew, which merged with Brazilian beermaker Ambev in 2004 to form InBev — the company that later combined with Anheuser-Busch.