SABMiller Deal to Distance Brewer From South Africa Mining Roots

Why the Beer Industry Boils Down to Two Major Players

A takeover of SABMiller Plc by larger competitor Anheuser-Busch InBev NV would further distance the London-based company from its 19th century roots as a South African provider of beer to thirsty miners on the Johannesburg gold reef.

The maker of local staples such as Castle Lite started life as South African Breweries in 1895, and became the first industrial company to list on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange two years later. By the middle of last century, the brewer controlled 98 percent of its home market, before expanding internationally after the end of white-minority rule in 1994.

“SAB beer sales are streets ahead of other beers we sell on any given night,” Kate Bennett, 33, a partner of the Colony Arms pub in Johannesburg’s Craighall Park suburb, said on Wednesday. “There is certainly a sense of national pride.”

The company’s first significant break from South Africa came with the move of its primary listing to London in 1999. Three years later it bought the Miller Brewing Company, the second-largest beer maker in the U.S., and has added Grolsch and Peroni to its portfolio. SABMiller now has 70,000 employees in more than 80 countries, and would be swallowed into Leuven, Belgium-based AB InBev if the brewer of Budweiser and Stella Artois completes a multi-billion dollar deal.

“Customers are quite set in their ways in terms of what they drink, so I doubt a change of ownership will significantly change that,” Bennett said. “It will be interesting to see if any change in advertising changes people’s perceptions.”