SAB Miller, the world’s second-biggest brewer, is muscling in on the British craft beer boom by buying London’s Meantime Brewing Company.
Meantime was founded in 1999 by brewer Alastair Hook in a flat in Greenwich and its most popular brews include London lager, London pale ale and London porter. It now operates from a modern brewery in Greenwich and has two pubs, the Greenwich Union and the Old Brewery bar.
SAB Miller said the deal would give it a toehold in the fastest growing part of the UK beer market. It plans to increase sales of Meantime beer in Britain beyond the brewer’s London base and is considering exporting to Europe.
Britain is in the midst of a craft brewing craze. Even as pubs close at a rate of about 30 a week, the number of breweries has increased by 10% over each of the past two years to more than 1,200 – the most since the 1940s. The surge is led by small operations making distinctive ales in and around London, Leeds and other major cities.
The companies did not disclose the price SAB Miller will pay for Meantime.
Nick Miller, Meantime’s chief executive, and Hook will continue to run the business. They will receive funds to expand the Greenwich brewery and will also be in charge of a new product development facility to develop new beers for SAB Miller.
Mindful that the independent status of craft brewers contributes to their popularity among drinkers, both SAB Miller and Meantime stressed that Meantime would keep its autonomy and distinct character. SAB Miller said its approach was not to dilute the quality of brewers it owns, such as Pilsner Urquell in the Czech Republic and Blue Moon in the US.
Meantime increased production by 58% last year as demand for craft beers increased. The overall UK beer market grew by 1%.
Sue Clark, the managing director of SAB Europe, said: “Nick Miller, Alastair Hook and their team have built a strong sense of pride and identity within Meantime, which has an excellent reputation for brewing consistently high-quality beers and for industry-leading innovation. This expertise will boost our strategy to develop beers that appeal to more people, including women, and which can be attractive alternatives to wine and spirits.”
SAB Miller’s purchase of Meantime is a further sign that craft beer is going mainstream. JD Wetherspoon, the pub chain, has started stocking beers made by BrewDog, the avowedly anti-establishment Scottish brewery. It remains to be seen how the purchase of Meantime by SAB Miller, which owns mass brands such as Foster’s in Australia and Miller in the US, goes down with ale enthusiasts.
Nick Miller said: “I can say from personal experience, that SAB Miller is a great company to be joining forces with. They see the opportunity, and believe in the longevity, of modern craft beer in the UK. The team at SAB Miller have stressed how important our culture is to our success to date, and have a strong track record in retaining the special identities and heritage of the local businesses they’ve bought in the past.”
By Sean Farrell