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INNOBEV GLOBAL SOFT DRINKS CONGRESS, LISBON, APRIL 7-9

Unicer eyes global beer growth, without treading on Carlsberg’s toes

By Ben Bouckley+

08-Apr-2014
Last updated on 08-Apr-2014 at 20:03 GMT

Super Bock from Unicer is already a success beyond it's home market of Portugal (Photo: Darach McDougall/Flickr)
Super Bock from Unicer is already a success beyond it's home market of Portugal (Photo: Darach McDougall/Flickr)

The CEO of Portuguese beer giant Unicer insists his firm will target global growth without clashing with 44% shareholder Carlsberg.

Addressing delegates at the InnoBev Global Soft Drinks Conference inLisbon, João Abecasis said that Unicer, which sells 600m liters worldwide and employs 1,350 staff, wasPortugal’s second-biggest FMCG firm but said a small player in world terms.

Major beer brands include Super Bock, Cristal and Carlsberg – the company distributes the latter –  and waters including Pedras, Vitalis and Vidago.

“There’s no other option but to go abroad if we want to look for growth,”  Abecasis said, noting that the bulk of Unicer’s production output was already shipped abroad.

“We want to transform ourselves into an international organization,” he added. “We just started producing for the first time outside of Portugal, Super Bock beer in Brazil under license. And we’re finalizing a project to build a factory in Angola.”

Calrsberg partnership brings ‘best of both worlds’

Abecasis said Unicer had the “best of both worlds” in beer via its Carlsberg connection – a partnership with a leading brewer but also real independence.

“We are still majority owned by Portuguese capital – two families and a bank – and that gives us a lot of independence and autonomy – you won’t find many Carlsberg companies working elsewhere than in their own geographies. That’s not the case with us,” he said.

But did this global growth aspiration mean that Unicer risked competing directly with Carslberg, or alternatively would it harness its distribution system to access new markets?

“Unlike Unilever or P&G, say, the world brewers tend to have white spots in their geographies. If you look at Carlsberg, they’re present in Northern Europe, Eastern Europe and Asia,” Abecasis said, in response to the question from BeverageDaily.com.

“Guess what? They’re not present in Africa or Latin America, where we have much stronger culturual ties. So in that sense the JV makes sense for both of the companies,” he added.

Abecasis told the audience that successes to date for Unicer and Portuguese peer Sumol+Compal (the top national soft drinks player) were in Europe, where Portuguese communities live, and in countries with cultural ties such as Africa andLatin America.

Super Bock 0.0% sells well in Saudi Arabia

That said, one success story for Unicer is Super Bock 0.0% – a zero alcohol beer that was was recently launched in Saudi Arabia and Abecasis  predicts will sell 2.5m liters in Saudi Arabia in 2013. He says he sees potential for sales of 10m liters in this market alone.

“More importantly, this can be a basis for geographical expansion in the Gulf region. This might sound a bit leftfield…but it’s a great product targrting consumer aspirtations,” he said.

Intriguingly, Abecasis said that – beyond “pockets of success”, for instance, with non-alcoholic stout beer Super Bock inGalicia – Portuguese brands often struggled in neighboringSpain due to branding issues.

However, he insisted that Portuguese communities abroad could help unlock other opportunities for Unicer’s brands, helping them gain an intial market foothold.

In Switzerland, for instance, Super Bock has gained mainstream off-premise market access via this means.

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