Australia: Competition watchdog raises concerns over CUB acquisition

Australia’s competition watchdog ACCC has raised concerns about Asahi Group Holdings Ltd’s proposed acquisition of Carlton & United Breweries (CUB) (, 19.7.2019).

The ACCC issued today a press release in which it set out its preliminary view that the proposed mega-deal valued at AUD 16.0 billion (USD 11.3 bn) will reduce competition in the market for cider and may also reduce competition in the beer market.

“The proposed acquisition would combine the two largest suppliers of cider in a highly concentrated market,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said. "A combined Asahi-CUB would control the Somersby [under licence from Carlsberg], Strongbow, Mercury and Bulmers [under licence from Heineken] cider brands, which account for about two thirds of cider sales. We are concerned that the proposed acquisition may lead to higher cider prices.”

“Asahi argued to us that cider and beer are part of the same market, but our preliminary view is that cider is a separate market and drinkers do not readily switch between beer and cider,” Mr Sims said.

“The ACCC also has preliminary competition concerns about the highly concentrated beer market. While Asahi is currently a relatively small brewer in Australia, accounting for approximately 3.5 per cent of beer sales here, our preliminary view is that Asahi may act as a competitive constraint on the two largest beer brewers, CUB and Lion, and has the potential to be an even bigger threat in future.”

Asahi’s beer brands include Asahi Super Dry, Peroni, Mountain Goat, Cricketers Arms and the new Two Suns brand. Asahi is a global beer company with revenue of over AUD25 billion (USD 17.2 bn) worldwide in 2018. It is the second largest supplier of premium international beers in Australia.

“Our preliminary view is that having Asahi in the market as a competitor to the big two brewers may help to keep a lid on beer prices. This competitive presence, and the threat of Asahi growing more in the future, would be lost if this deal goes ahead,” Mr Sims said.

In forming its view in relation to cider and beer, the ACCC spoke with a large number of market participants, including licensed venues, alcohol retailers, competitors and industry groups. Many market participants expressed concerns about the proposed deal.

The ACCC has released a statement of issues and invites submissions from interested parties by 22 January 2020. The final decision is scheduled for 19 March 2020.

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