Cees 't Hart, chief executive officer of Danish Carlsberg Group justified in an telephone interview the inactivity of his group in the consolidation process of the international beer market. He said he won't be "seduced" by negative interest rates like other companies, thus indirectly blaming AB InBev and its CEO Carlos Brito or to a lesser extend also Heineken and its CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer. Especially the world’s leading brewer pursued in the last years a strong policy of expansion while accumulating at the same time a heavy debt burden.
“It looks very attractive to expand the business and take advantage of historically cheap credit rates,” ‘t Hart said but “there are many companies that have been a lot more aggressive than we have who have then gotten into problems afterwards."
"The moment you get seduced by low rates and companies feel like they have to use them to do very big things -- maybe bigger than they can absorb -- they have to remember they all have to pay the bill later," t’Hart was quoted by the Business Times.
Less than one year ago, t’Hart regretted in an interview with Bloomberg that his predecessor Jørgen Buhl Rasmussen missed out opportunities in the consolidation of the worldwide beer market. “We missed the 2010-2015 consolidation in the beer market,” he said. “AB Inbev did it, Heineken did it, we didn’t -- for all kind of good reasons -- but we didn’t.”
However, since t’Hart took office in 2015, the consolidation in the beer industry went on and Carlsberg sat more or less impassive on the sidelines and watched the game.
While AB InBev swallowed SABMiller in 2016 (inside.beer, 28.9.2016) and Heineken acquired Brasil Kirin in 2017, formed a strategic partnership with China Ressources Beer in 2018 (inside.beer, 3.8.2018), and increased its control of India’s leading brewer United Breweries (Kingfisher) step by step (inside.beer, 31.3.2019), Carlsberg was only able to acquire some smaller craft breweries and increase ownership in strategically less relevant breweries, like Olympic Brewery in Greece (inside.beer, 6.2.2018), Cambodian brewer Cambrew (inside.beer, 14.8.2018) and Portuguese Super Bock Group (inside.beer, 14.12.2018).
Major investments, like the long awaited purchase of Habeco in Vietnam, where even the Vietnamese Prime Minister urged Carlsberg to expand its investment (inside.beer, 13.9.2018), did not materialize.
Even smaller brewers, like ThaiBev from Thailand and Asahi from Japan were more aggressive and could secure major investments like in Vietnam’s leading brewer Sabeco (inside.beer, 18.12.2017) , Australia’s Carlton & United Breweries (inside.beer, 19.7.2019) and various breweries in Europe (inside.beer, 11.10.2016, inside.beer, 13.12.2016 and inside.beer, 5.2.2019).