SABMiller agrees to buy Meantime Brewing Company

The craft beer market is growing quickly in the UK.

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By :  ,  Financial Analyst

SABMiller, the world's second-largest brewing company has agreed to buy London-based brand Meantime Brewing Company.

The deal gives SABMiller an opportunity to get into the craft beer market, which is the "fastest-growing segment of the UK beer market," the company explained in a statement. Plans include expanding the beer's market in the UK and possibly exporting it to Europe.

Meantime is a 15-year old company based in Greenwich. It was founded in 1999 by brewer Alastair Hook and its range includes London lager, London pale ale and London porter. It operates a modern brewery and has two pubs: the Old Brewery Bar and the Greenwich Union.

"We love local variety and carefully nurture our 200 local and heritage beers," said Sue Clark, managing director at SABMiller Europe.

In 2014, volumes of beer sales at Meantime grew by 58 per cent. SABMiller says this outpaced the UK beer market's one per cent growth. The Guardian explains that this is because "Britain is in the midst of a craft brewing craze".

Despite pubs closing down at a rate of 30 a week in the UK, the number of breweries has increased by 10 per cent over each of the past two years. There are now more than 1,200 across the country – the most since the 1940s.

The acquisition of Meantime is expected to be completed next month (June, 2015) – the value of the deal has not been disclosed.

Speaking about the deal, Meantime chief executive Nick Miller said: "[SABMiller] sees the opportunity and believes in the longevity of modern craft beer in the UK.

SABMiller's portfolio already includes brands like Coors, Fosters, Bulmers, Carling, Miller and Peroni. This morning the company opened on the London Stock Exchange at 3,618, up from the previous close of 3,600.

Andrew Holland, drinks analyst at Societe Generale, told the BBC that until recently, SABMiller has had only a small presence in the UK and he says this has actually been an asset, as competition is high and profitability low in the UK.

"In the context of SABMiller, [this acquisition] is immaterial," Mr Holland said.

"The UK is less than one per cent of the business," he added.

However, by moving into the specialist market, the company could find some new opportunities. "If they could find something similar, I wouldn't rule [another acquisition] out," he said.

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