Kirin Brewery Co. Ltd., producer of Japan's two most popular beers, stands out in the brewery world as one of the few companies in Asia poised to challenge the "big four," which control more than half of the market. Kirin's "competitive situation requires that it move forward aggressively, or it will fall back and become the prey," says Tom Pirko, managing director of beverage advisory firm Bevmark in Buellton, Calif.
Indeed Belgium's Anheuser-Busch InBev NV (EBR: ABI), London's SABMiller plc (LON: SAB.L), Amsterdam's Heineken NV (AMS: HEIA) and Denmark's Carlsberg AS (CPH: CARL) display the most buying power, pushing many of their Asian counterparts onto the sell-side of the negotiation table. As a result, the current land grab of assets in Asia and other emerging markets looks like a game of beer-themed Monopoly.
"They're all going around the board trying to buy Park Place, so the consolidation is not going to stop," Pirko says, citing the 51 percent of the brewing industry that's not owned by any of the major companies.
Meanwhile, there's Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd. (TYO:2503), the parent company behind Kirin Brewery, maker of Kirin Lager and Ichiban Shibori. The Tokyo brewer displayed its own M&A chops in June when it completed the buyout of Australian boutique brewer Little World Beverages for $257 million, at a 40 percent premium. Kirin, through Australian arm Lion, already owned 36.3 percent of Little World, maker of Little Creatures beers.
But Kirin can't sit back and savor this deal. Pirko and other beverage advisers urge the company to move forward with more acquisitions.
In addition to manufacturing beer, wine, dairy products and fruit drinks, Kirin Holdings operates a pharmaceutical and bio-chemical division-a non-core asset that some say is likely headed toward the auction block, which could free up proceeds to be spent on deals in the brewing sector.
If not, the sobering reality is that Carlsberg-one of "the big four" brewing companies after AB InBev, SABMiller and Heineken-is looking to tap into Asia as a way to satisfy its own expansion goals.
Just as Heineken wrapped up the $4.6 billion courting of Asia Pacific Breweries (APB), Carlsberg formed a joint venture with Singha Corp., a Thailand brewery group that owns Leo Beer, as well as Singha. The agreement sets Carlsberg up for mass marketing and distribution of its brands in Thailand.
Then there's AB InBev. The owner of Budweiser is considered a likely buyer of Kingway Brewery Holdings Ltd. in Hong Kong, while SABMiller also maintains a position in Asia thanks to a joint venture with China Resources Snow Breweries Ltd.
If the recent volume of deals in the Asian market is any indication, and consolidation continues at its current pace, some half dozen players may be ruling the roost more quickly than expected.