Business / Corporate

Asahi still keen to keep buying months after $11 billion AB InBev deal

Bloomberg

Three months after shelling out $11 billion for Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Australian operations, Asahi Group Holdings Ltd. plans to keep growing via more deals.

Japan’s largest brewer wants to establish more hubs globally beyond Europe and Australia, Chief Executive Officer Akiyoshi Koji said in an interview Thursday.

“I’m OK with having four or five geographic hubs; it’s a step by step process,” said Koji. “Once we expanded into the three areas and they are stable, depending on our financial conditions and if there is a good target, we’d expand to the next hub.” He declined to elaborate on a time line.

Asahi has been steadily growing globally as it tries to lessen its dependence on a fiercely competitive and dwindling beer market at home. Koji has said he wants to make Asahi’s Super Dry — Japan’s best selling beer — into a premium brand worldwide that rivals Heineken, but the company is also seeking to go global at a time when the beer industry faces headwinds from shifting alcohol preferences, especially among younger consumers.

In the last four years Asahi has spent over $20 billion buying assets from Anheuser-Busch InBev, including the Australian deal for Carlton & United Breweries and its purchase of European brands Peroni, Grolsch and Pilsner Urquell in 2016. The Carlton & United acquisition, announced in July, could push the company’s net debt to over four times EBITDA, Koji said.

Koji said he thinks it’s possible to lower the company’s debt ratio to under that level by the end of 2023 without selling off any assets, but that there are small operations Asahi could dispose of.

Despite its near-laser focus on beer, Asahi has plans to grow its food operations globally, said Koji. The company’s Amano Foods, which sells freeze-dried miso soup, could do well in Europe and Australia as Japanese cuisine becomes more popular overseas, he said.

Asahi has also begun selling its powdered milk in Vietnam through a joint venture earlier this year, and plans to expand further in Southeast Asia. The foods unit makes up about 5 percent of sales.

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