'Our Plan Is to Look for Any Smart Acquisitions and Mergers We Can Do' Welsh Head of Coors Brewers Sets out Strategy

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Byline: Robert Llewellyn Jones

WHEN Belgium's InBev SA announced in July that it would purchase iconic American brewer Anheuser-Busch for EUR52bn it a sent a seismic shock through the world's beer industry.

"That makes them the biggest beer company in the world with 23% of the industry and the fifth biggest global consumer goods company in the world," said Peter Swinburn who, at 53, is the youngest president and chief executive of the Molson Coors Brewing Company - the world's fifth biggest global brewer.

Aberdare-born Mr Swinburn believes that further acquisitions in the sector are inevitable.

He said: "It was another in a continuous spate of acquisitions that began in the mid-'90s and has led to the industry's major players becoming larger and more powerful."

Mr Swinburn's career in the beer industry began more than 30 years ago when he joined Welsh Brewers as an economics graduate fresh from the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology (Uwist).

When Welsh Brewers was taken over by Coors in 2002 he had worked his way through a series of senior roles in marketing and retail management to become sales director for the parent company, Bass. Then two years later, Coors merged with the biggest Canadian company Molson to form Molson Coors.

Summing all this up he said: "So we have been playing the consolidation game along with everybody else."

That was the start of a journey that took the Welsh chief executive to the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado, from where he ran the international business for Coors, overseeing sales to China, Japan, and the whole of South-East Asia.

Then it was back to the UK as head of operations here before finally returning to Denver as chief executive officer three months ago.

Parodying a famous advert for a rival product Mr Swinburn said: "The UK beer market is probably the toughest beer market in the world. There is a combination of consolidation at the retail end, where you have powerful retailers like Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury on the one hand and companies like Punch Taverns and Enterprise owning a significant number of pubs, on the other. So I think the top 12 customers in the UK control more than 50% of the volume sold there."

Such huge consolidation and the smoking ban in both England and Wales, allied to the March hike in duty has, he believes, affected on-premise sales. As a consequence the industry is under considerable pressure in the UK when it comes to growth areas.

To combat these restraints his company's focus must be on its brands which is where growth originates.

He said: "We have by far and away the biggest brand in the UK which is Carling. This is a third bigger than any other beer in the UK so that gives us a significant platform to work from."

Although the current economic climate may not be conducive to increasing sales this is all part of a cycle, he said. …