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Foster's ownership won't change Aussie taste for beer

By: Peter Trute
23 September, 2011

An Australian, an Englishman and a South African walk into a bar - but the Australian's not buying.

It's not a joke - it's just a depressingly familiar pattern in the Australian brewing industry, where local brands are bought by overseas operations but deals keeping the Aussie-owned sticker on much-adored ales are not to be seen.

The announcement of Foster's impending $12.3 billion takeover by Ango-South African brewing giant SABMiller completes the migration of about 90 per cent of Australia's beer market into foreign hands, leaving family owned Coopers as the biggest Australian-owned brewer - with around four per cent of the market.

Recent figures from industry research group IBISWorld show Foster's has 48 per cent of Australia's $5 billion beer market, with Lion Nathan holding 41.3 per cent and Coopers on 3.6 per cent.

Christopher Zinn, director of campaigns and communications at consumer advocacy group Choice, said foreign ownership was unlikely to be a significant factor for drinkers of Foster's beers, which include VB and Carlton Draught.

"For drinkers, ownership is perhaps less important than consistency of quality and identity," he said.

The nature of the Australian beer market is changing, with IBISWorld saying in its June 2011 report that Foster's and Lion Nathan were expected to continue to lose market share in the next few years as competition intensifies.

"Premium beers will continue to gain their share of the market, with flavoured beers, international brands and craft beers all benefiting from drinkers' ongoing demand for variety and quality," the report said.

Coopers managing director Dr Tim Cooper welcomed the company's new status as Australia's biggest brewer, saying it opened new avenues for growth.

"Coopers currently has about four per cent of the Australian beer market but we see the fact that we remain Australian-owned will provide us with strong marketing opportunities in the future," he said.

Craft beers, which currently have less than two per cent of the market according to IBISWorld, are growing, albeit from a small base.

Martin O'Mara, managing director of the National Independent Liquor Wholesalers Association, which supplies bars and restaurants, said there was a lot of activity in the craft sector

"I get a call once a month from some small brewer who's looking to go national," he said.

Zinn said the Foster's takeover needn't be detrimental to consumers.

"Foster's has been withering on the vine for some time - now there are new owners, hopefully they can bring some new impetus to it," he said.

Zinn said the takeover could put a question mark over the future of some low-volume beers in the Foster's stable.

"There could be rationalisation," he said.

Source: AAP NewsWire