Sapporo to raise Vietnam beer output as Japan demand slows

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Sapporo Holdings Ltd., Japan's fourth-largest brewer by volume, intends to increase beer production as much as fivefold in Vietnam by 2019 as a shrinking population at home crimps demand.

Sapporo, which started brewing beer in Vietnam last month, plans to boost annual output to as much as 200,000 kiloliters (52.8 million gallons) from 40,000 kiloliters in 2014, Yoshiyuki Mochida, president of Sapporo International, said in an interview Friday in Tokyo.

Japan's biggest brewers including Asahi Group Holdings Ltd. and Kirin Holdings Co. plan acquisitions across Southeast Asia to access wider margins after beer shipments slumped in 2010 for a 14th consecutive year. Sapporo will compete with them in Vietnam, where the government estimates that demand for beer will more than double by 2020.

"Vietnam's business environment is such that you have to knock the competition out before they do," Mochida said. "If you fall asleep there, your head will be lopped off."

Asahi Group has identified targets in Southeast Asia, President Naoki Izumiya said in an interview on Dec. 12. Kirin will "consider corporate tie-ups and small-scale mergers and acquisitions" in the region, Chief Executive Officer Senji Miyake said Dec. 13.

Sapporo shares were unchanged at the close of trading in Tokyo. They have declined 19 percent this year, trailing the 20 percent slide for the broader Topix index. Asahi has risen 7.6 percent and Kirin has fallen 18 percent.

Second factory

Sapporo, maker of premium brands such as Yebisu, may decide to open a second factory in Hanoi in 2014, Mochida said. Consumption in Vietnam is forecast to overtake that in Japan by 2020 if current trends continue, he said.

The Southeast Asian nation had a population of 89.6 million at the end of last year and is forecast by the US Census Bureau to increase to 93.4 million by 2014, according to data on the Bloomberg. Japan had 126.8 million people and is forecast to drop to 125.2 million by 2014, the data shows.

Demand for beer in Vietnam is expected to rise to 5.8 million kiloliters by 2020 from 2.6 million kiloliters last year, according to the nation's ministry of industry and trade.

"The beer market for Vietnam is huge and will overtake Japan," said Hiroshi Saji, a Tokyo-based analyst for Mizuho Securities Co. who recommends buying Sapporo shares. "But the first order of the day is to turn a profit for their overseas operations."

Operating margins

The push into the region will give the brewers access to markets where some rivals' operating margins are more than double those of Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo.

Sapporo's operating margin of 7.13 percent compares with 26.74 percent for the Philippines' San Miguel Brewery Inc. and 22.47 percent for PT Multi Bintang Indonesia, according to the latest quarterly figures compiled by Bloomberg. Asahi's operating margin was 9.73 percent and Kirin had a margin of 8.61 percent.

Malaysia's Guinness Anchor Bhd. has an operating margin of 16.27 percent while Thai Beverage Pcl.'s was 12.14 percent in the most recent quarter.

San Miguel Brewery, a unit of the Philippines' biggest company by sales that dominates the country's beer market, is 48 percent owned by Kirin, which has been investing in the Southeast Asian country for at least a decade.

Sapporo also plans to expand in Thailand, where it will build brand awareness through Japanese restaurants, Mochida said. It may look for local partners to grow in that country, he said.

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