Japanese beer giant Asahi seeks to swallow Peroni and Grolsch

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The Japanese beer giant Asahi is seeking some European flavor to add more fizz to its sales.

The brewer is in exclusive talks over a $2.9 billion deal to buy a bunch of businesses from SABMiller (SBMRF) that include the storied beer brands Peroni and Grolsch.

SABMiller wants to offload the operations to keep regulators happy ahead of its $107 billion takeover by Anheuser-Busch InBev (AHBIF). For Asahi (ASBRF), the deal would be a chance to add some growth outside its sluggish home market.

The beer business in Asia “has areas where growth remains strong, but Japan is not one of them,” said Glen Steinman, the president of Seema International, a consultancy that specializes in the drinks industry. “The Japan beer market is well off its peak.”

By buying Peroni and Grolsch — European brands with more than 500 years of history between them — Asahi appears to be hoping to gain ground in the premium beer market, which has been growing quite strongly in Asia for years, according to Steinman.

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Asahi will be able to use its existing Japanese and international operations to help put the two European brands in front of new Asian customers.

The acquisition, which includes the British craft beer brand Meantime, would also give Asahi a better foothold in the big European and U.S. markets.

The company said it aims to take advantage of the distribution networks it would get through the deal to push its main “Asahi Super Dry” brand into new areas.

But Asahi’s plans rely on approval from antitrust regulators of the mega merger of SABMiller and Anheuser-Busch InBev. The concern is that the combined company will wield too much power in key markets, resulting in higher beer prices for consumers.

The two merging brewers have already agreed a $12 billion deal to offload beer brands in the U.S. to Molson Coors (TAP) to appease regulators. Selling Peroni and Grolsch should help them make their case in Europe.

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