Germany: Carlsberg buys legendary beer brand

The Carlsberg Group has entered into an agreement with Bitburger Braugruppe to acquire one of the oldest breweries in the world, WernesgrünerBrauerei from the namesake village in Saxony, Germany.

The Wernesgrüner brand is one of the most traditional German beer brands. The brewery was founded in 1436 and beer from Wernesgrün was already more than 100 years ago one of the first German beers to be nationally distributed. Along with Radeberger, Wernesgrüner was the only beer that was served at official state events in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR). After the fall of the iron curtain and German reunification in 1990, consumers initially spurned the beer brands from the former GDR and the output of the Wernesgrüner brewery fell to almost zero. In contrast to most other breweries it took many years to transfer the state-owned brewery to its pre-socialist private owners which sold it not much later to a dubious investor until it was finally acquired by the Bitburger brewery group, one of the leading German brewing groups in 2002.

Through increased marketing efforts with the establishment of the advertising slogan "Pils Legende" (“Legendary Pils beer”) in 1995, and the introduction of canned beer, the brewery was able to double output to about 850,000 hl within a few years and the capacity of the brewery was extended to one million hectoliters. Most remarkably, the brewery sold at that time only one type of beer, a Pilsen beer that had achieved cult status because of its premium appeal and scarcity in socialist times. In later years sales fell and due to two very sharp price increases recently carried out, sales finally dropped to around 500,000 hl with a revenue of EUR 31 million in 2019. However, Wernesgrüner is still considered a premium beer brand and especially in the region of the former GDR, it has many loyal customers.

Cees ’t Hart, CEO of the Carlsberg group says: “The acquisition of the Wernesgrüner Brewery will strengthen our position in our core regions of northern and eastern Germany. We will be able to offer a stronger portfolio to our customers, and the acquisition will bring considerable benefits in both production and logistics.”

Sebastian Holtz, CEO Carlsberg Germany adds: “After the extensive investment in the new building of the Holsten brewery in Hamburg, we are now adding Wernesgrüner, one of the most traditional German beer brands, to our portfolio as a consistent continuation of our growth strategy. We are thus expanding our leading position in the core regions of northern and eastern Germany and creating a home for all core brands with the three brewery locations in Hamburg, Lübz and Wernesgrün.”

“We are pleased that we have found a partner in Carlsberg Germany who not only wants to take over the location in Wernesgrün, but also wants to expand its capacities in the long term and sustainably,” says Axel Dahm, spokesman for the Bitburger brewery group. “The sale enables us as a group of companies to focus more on our black beer brewery and the logistics location in Bad Köstritz as well as the Köstritzer brand in eastern Germany.”

In a press release the Bitburger Brewery Group also said that as a family business, it was crucial in the sales negotiations that Carlsberg Germany, as the future owner of the brewery, showed a long-term development perspective for the location.

The transaction is anticipated to complete on 1 January 2021, subject to the approval of the Federal Cartel Office. Both parties have agreed not to disclose contract details and the purchase price.

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