AB Inbev completes its acquisition of the Craft Brew Alliance

16 Oct 2020

The merger of AB InBev and the Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) is now finalized following the divestiture of brewery operations in Hawaii. In September the U.S. Department of Justice approved the companies’ decision to sell CBA's Kona Brewing operations in Hawaii to a third-party, PV Brewing, thereby satisfying the requirement to eliminate the risk of a monopoly in the Hawaiian beer market. AB InBev will retain the mainland operation of the brand.

Terms of the deal include AB InBev purchasing the remaining 68.8% stake it did not previously own in Craft Brew Alliance for about $321 million, or $16.50 a share in cash. Under the newly merged company, the company said the number of employees will expand by 3,200 and operations will enlarge by 40 taprooms, brewpubs and breweries across the U.S. CBA's common stock ceased trading on the NASDAQ Global Select Market effective September 30.

AB Inbev completes its acquisition of the Craft Brew Alliance

Additionally, several CBA executives will migrate to become employees of AB InBev. Andy Thomas, formerly CEO of CBA, will serve as general manager of Kona Brewing Co.'s mainland operations and regional Brewers Collective brands. Christine Perich, formerly Chief Financial and Strategy Officer for CBA, will serve as general manager of regional breweries on the West Coast.

This deal was 25 years in the making. A quarter of a century ago, Widmer Brothers Brewery and Redhook Brewery sold minority stakes to the beer giant in exchange for guaranteed access to its nationwide distribution network, and since then, AB InBev’s interest in craft beer has only grown.

Craft brews have repeatedly proved to be a bright spot in an otherwise challenging segment, and AB InBev is clearly interested in expanding its market share in a segment where consumers are continuing to demand more options. Beer sales experienced their fourth straight year of declining sales and reported a 2.3% dip in 2019. In recent years the mega brewer has scooped up Goose Island Beer, Devils Backbone and Karbach Brewing as it works to pivot away from traditional lagers where sales have remained flat.

However, the pandemic has hit the overall beer industry hard. In a report from the Beer Institute, the Brewers Association, the National Beer Wholesalers Association and the American Beverage Licensees, the associations forecast a $22 billion decline in retail beer sales by the end of 2020 and the loss of more than 651,000 jobs supported by the U.S. beer industry.

Craft brewers have been especially hard hit because of their size. While CBA was not comprised of microbreweries – the Kona brand alone produced about 500,000 barrels in 2019 – it is still beneficial to have the backing of an industry titan with a $154 billion market cap. Since the two companies have been working together for multiple decades, it is unlikely that the finalization of this merger will change much in terms of the relationship between the two entities. However, for AB InBev the closing of this deal marks the end of an era and begins a new one where craft beer is now, in many cases, Big Beer.

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