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Global giant in grab for Meantime

Added: Friday, May 15th 2015

alastair hook

SABMiller, the world’s second biggest brewing group and owner of Peroni, Grolsch, Miller Lite and Pilsner Urquell, has bought one of Britain’s most successful craft breweries, Meantime in Greenwich, South London. The sums involved have not been disclosed but SABMiller will now own a £2 million brewery with a potential capacity of 100,000 barrels and will control such key brands as London Pale Ale, London Lager and Yakima Red.

SABMiller has seen its beer sales fall in some key European markets. The group has also been under pressure, with rumours that AB InBev, the world's biggest brewer, might make a takeover bid. The Meantime acquisitiion could help stave off a grab from its main rival.

Nick Miller will continue as chief executive of Meantime. He joined the Greenwich brewery in 2011 and was previously managing director of Miller Brands, SABMiller’s UK subsidiary. Alastair Hook (above), who founded Meantime in 2000, remains as brew master. The brewery also owns an archive of the work of the legendary beer writer Michael Jackson, the Beer Hunter, and the future of the archive is unknown.

Meantime has been phenomenally successful in forging new routes to market with beers sold in bars and restaurants. It has been innovative, introducing draught beer in a box for outlets that lack cellar facilities. Its second brewery at the Unesco World Heritage Site of Christopher Wren’s Old Naval College in Greenwich gives scope for dining and matching beer with food, with such beers as Porter aged in wooden casks.

In 2014, Meantime’s sales grew by 58%, outpacing the UK beer market’s total growth of 1%. Sue Clark, managing director of SABMiller Europe, says she will explore export opportunities for Meantime brands and will also build a pilot brewery at Greenwich that will become the group’s centre for product innovation. The takeover will be completed in June.

The key question raised by the takeover is: Will there be more to come? The giant global brewers are keenly aware of the dramatic changes in beer drinking in Britain, Europe, the United States and Australia and New Zealand. Consumers are moving away from mass market brands and seeking beers with greater character and flavour.

In the U.S., AB InBev, the world’s biggest brewing group, bought the successful Goose Island craft brewery in Chicago and has opened a new brewing site on the east coast to build sales of such key Goose Island beers as IPA and Honkers.

In Britain, Molson Coors has bought Sharp’s Brewery in Cornwall and turned Doom Bar into the top UK standard bitter, overtaking sales of Greene King’s IPA. The main breweries in Britain owned by the likes of AB InBev, Carlsberg and Heineken are geared to producing vast volumes of mainstream lager and are not sufficiently flexible to enable them to brew smaller volumes of craft beer. It means they could be on the lookout for independent breweries that are successful in the fast-growing craft sector.

The sale of Meantime could mark a seismic shift in British brewing.

meantime taps