Two years ago, inside.beer asked “Is AB InBev the loser of the new cannabis merger?” when Tilray and Aphria, two leading cannabis companies from Canada announced to combine their businesses and create the world’s largest global cannabis company. (inside.beer, 16.12.2020) Today, the clear answer is “Yes”.
When AB InBev entered the market for cannabis infused drinks in December 2018 through a cooperation of its subsidiary Labatt Breweries of Canada with Tilray (inside.beer, 21.12.2018), it seemed as if the brewing giant had managed to get a foot in the door for a strong growth segment at the last minute. Before, former AB InBev boss Carlos Brito did not pay much attention to this evolving market segment while the other three major U.S. brewing groups in the U.S. had already chosen their respective partners. Half a year earlier, in June 2018 Brito seemed still undecided when he said that “Cannabis is still something that we as a company are trying to learn more about.”
At the time the arrangement was announced, the partners pledged to invest CAD 63.4 million (USD 50m) in the venture, called Fluent Beverage Co with both partners both holding a 50% ownership interest.
Now, three years later, AB InBev stands before the ruins of this ambitious project. Last Monday, Tilray the New York-based cannabis company quietly acknowledged in a regulatory filing that both companies had ended their partnership.
“We concluded our joint venture relationship with AB InBev,” Tilray said in the filing. “We retained the manufacturing equipment associated with CBD and THC beverages, obtained a royalty-free, perpetual, worldwide license to utilize the technology related to the manufacture of CBD and THC beverages, which was developed by the joint venture and negotiated a co-manufacturing arrangement to manufacture CBD beverages on behalf of Fluent.”
According to the new agreement Fluent Beverages will now operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Labatt and Tilray will serve as Fluent’s co-manufacturing partner.
“We do not expect these changes to have any significant impact on Fluent’s day-to-day operations as it remains focused on commercializing CBD-infused non-alcohol beverages in Canada,” Tamar Nersesian, communications director for Labatt Breweries of Canada, told MJBizDaily.
However, people close to the matter are seeing now a new rivalry as Tilray has changed sides from being a partner to being a new competitor to AB InBev. Through the merger with Aphria, Tilray owns its own brewery where it can easily produce cannabis beverages without the help of AB InBev. In November 2020, Aphria acquired SweetWater Brewing Company, one of the top fifteen craft breweries in the USA.(inside.beer, 4.11.2020) This gives the company the platform to produce any beverage without the help of a third party.