Miller Brewing Co., now officially SABMiller since being acquired by South African Breweries, is used to living in the shadows. They’ve been the number two brewery in the U.S. for as long as most of us can remember. Today a Business Day story reports they’ve acquired their second overseas brewery in recent weeks. Slovakian brewery Topvar is the latest one. The other was Peruvian brewery Backus, most famous for Cristal Beer. Including the Miller beers, SABMiller currently owns approximately 150 beer brands worldwide. These include Carling Black Label, Castle Lager, Henry Weinhard, Leinenkugel, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell though most are line extensions or very small breweries.
But as is typical for the Avis of the brewing world, they’re taking the same steps as Anheuser-Busch and shoring up their import portfolio. Though with the notable exception of Pilsner Urquell, their brands are somewhat second-rate. I don’t wish to denegrate the quality of some of the beers in their portfolio, although that could be done easily in a few cases, but rather to suggest a lack of market leaders or brands that not are well-known, especially to Americans.
It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if we hear Molson Coors has gobbled up another imported beer shortly. They big three seem to act with one brain much of the time, especially when it comes to business decisions. You get the sense they all look to A-B to see what they’re doing and then react accordingly: either by doing the same or, every once in a blue moon, choosing a different path. It seems strange, but you watch this long enough and you get the sense it’s one elaborate game of follow the leader. Unfortunately, the game also appears rigged.