On October 17, Pierre Castel, one of the richest and most unknown people in the brewing industry, celebrates his 90th birthday. As founding president and head of the family of Groupe Castel, he still leads the business, consisting of more than 200 enterprises. With assets worth more than $10 billion Pierre Castel and his family are on rank 125 of Forbes’ 2016 list of the richest people on earth. With an annual output of almost 30 million hl beer Castel is the world's tenth biggest brewer.
As the patriarch turns 90 next month, industry observers wonder where the company is heading after Pierre Castel. Mr. Castel is married and has one daughter, who is not further involved in the business. Besides, there are family members working in one or several of the family companies. Michel Palu, son of his oldest sister Pilar, is said to be closest to him. He is chairman and CEO of several of Castel’s breweries and beverage groups in Africa. Next comes Jean-Claude Palu, younger brother of Michel. He is also involved in the beer business, mainly in West Africa. An important role also plays Alain Castel, son of Pierre’s other sister Angel. He is running the wine business of Castel Frères together with his two other brothers.
Carlos Brito, CEO of AB InBev, sees in the alliance to Castel Group “a very important relationship that we intend to continue to develop and evolve”. According to industry sources, AB InBev’s intended takeover of SABMiller includes the first right to buy out the French group, should it ever seek new owners outside the family.
Pierres parents were poor immigrants from Spain, his father Santiago Castel being a sharecropper at a local vineyard in Bourg-sur-Gironde close to Bordeaux/France. Pierre, whose full name is Pierre Jesus Sebastian Castel had 4 older brothers and 3 younger sisters. With his three brothers Marcel, Jean and Angel he started Groupe Castel in 1949. The company exported wine to French speaking countries in West Africa. As it was easier to transport the wine in barrels and tanks, they began bottling it on site in Africa. Later on they used the bottling lines also for water and soft drinks. In 1990 Groupe Castel bought Société des Brasseries et Glacières Internationales (BGI), a group of breweries across Africa, which was the starting point for further acquisitions in the brewing sector, mainly in Africa. In April 2001 Castel signed an agreement with the number one brewer in Africa, South African Breweries (SAB), in which both companies swapped shares and virtually divided the continent among the French speaking countries for Castel and the English speaking countries for SAB. Up to now SAB owns 20% of Castel and Castel owns 38% of SAB's African business, excluding South Africa.
Today Groupe Castel ranks number 3 in wine and number 10 in beer worldwide. The wine business, Castel Frères, sold 630 bottles of wine and had a turnover of €1.2 billion in 2012. The beer business, which is bundled under the umbrella of BGI, comprises of 41 breweries in Africa with a production of almost 30 million hectoliters in 2015. In 2007 Groupe Castel started a new venture in Morocco, planting more than one million olive trees for the production of olive oil, complementing its several vineyards in the region. Total turnover of the group amounted to €2.9 billion in 2012.