The Canadian Press
May 13, 2007(CP) – Canadian-owned breweries are disappearing faster than a cold beer on a hot day, and the president of one of the last remaining home-grown beer companies says it’s happening with the tacit approval of Canadians.
Steven Poirier, president of New Brunswick-based Moosehead Breweries, says a huge slice of Canada’s brewing industry has been swallowed by foreign interests – mostly U.S. brewing giants.
“Close to 90 per cent of all beer sold in Canada today is controlled by foreign brewers,” Poirier says in a speech prepared for delivery on Monday in Saint John, N.B.
“This is probably the highest percentage in the world.”
The rapid rate of change in Canada’s once proud brewing industry has left only a few small voices, like Moosehead, to proclaim, “I am Canadian.”
Moosehead, which traces its roots to 1867, is now the largest Canadian-owned brewery. Its products account for about 5.5 per cent of national beer sales.
Poirier says the three fastest growing beer brands in Canada are U.S. brands that have invested millions in advertising and promotional campaigns.
He says Canadian consumers have bought into the U.S. campaigns, which often use Canadian images and themes.
Poirier says consumers are not seeing the big picture.
“Are we destined to become the largest consumers of American beer outside the United States? From our perspective it certainly appears so,” he says.
Over the past 10 years or so, the worldwide brewing industry has consolidated into a handful of large multinational players.
Labatt Brewing Co. was bought by Belgian-based giant Interbrew a decade ago. Interbrew merged with Brazil’s AmBev in 2004, creating InBev, the world’s largest brewery.
Molson, ironically brewers of the Molson Canadian brand, merged with U.S. giant Coors to form Molson Coors Brewing Co. (TSX:TAP.B) in 2005.
Other major players include Anheuser-Busch in the United States, Holland’s Heineken NV, and SABMiller PLC in Britain.
During the past 18 months, Labatt purchased Lakeport Brewing, Sleeman Breweries was sold to Sapporo of Japan, and Colorado-based Coors strengthened its hold over Molson with the majority of pre-merger Molson executives now gone from the company.
“Then, just a few weeks ago we learned that Brick Brewing, the last major Canadian-owned brewer after Moosehead, is up for sale,” Poirier said.
The Moosehead president says that despite the pressures of globalization, the privately-owned, Saint John-based company is not for sale.
Poirier says smaller brewers in Canada need to do a better job of telling the story of Canadian beer.
He says they also need to work with local liquor boards and corporations to put more focus on Canadian-owned brands.