Japanese brewer Kirin targets Myanmar’s hardy drinkers

Myanmar beer consumption rates are currently among the lowest in Asia. — AFP pic
Myanmar beer consumption rates are currently among the lowest in Asia. — AFP pic

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YANGON, March 4 — Japanese brewer Kirin is hoping to tap into swift growth — and serious staying power — with its latest investment in Myanmar’s fizzing beer market, a senior executive said yesterday.

Last month the beer giant took a controlling stake in Mandalay Brewery for US$4.3 million (RM19.15 million), topping off its more than half a billion investment in top producer Myanmar Brewery in 2015.

Myanmar Brewery deputy managing director Hideki Mitsuhashi predicted sales will grow in line with GDP at around 7 per cent a year.

In the long-run, he said Myanmar’s drinkers can also knock it back for longer than their regional counterparts.

“Myanmar people are very, very strong for alcohol,” he told AFP.

“We have a kit to measure resistance to drink... They are much stronger than Japanese and Chinese.”

Myanmar beer consumption rates are currently among the lowest in Asia.

Drinkers chug down around three litres per head each year, according to Euromonitor, a fraction of the more than 40 litres drunk in neighbouring Vietnam or over 30 in Laos.

But the market has been brewing since a quasi-civilian government took over in 2011 and introduced a raft of economic reforms that have uncorked a market long stifled by military rule. 

Today local brands are vying with international heavyweights like Carlsberg and Heineken for a share of the relatively untapped market of some 55 million people. 

Euromonitor predicts beer sales will more than double between 2014-18 to US$675 million a year.

Mitsuhashi said the influx of Westerners since the end of sanctions is drawing more people to drink.

He also predicted that more women will start to enjoy beer: “Myanmar people think women shouldn’t drink alcohol — 40 or 50 years ago Japan was the same.” 

Kirin currently controls around 80 per cent of Myanmar’s beer market through Myanmar Brewery, which would increase if its purchase of Mandalay Brewery gets government approval.

It also has powerful friends: both breweries are partnerships with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings, a military conglomerate until recently sanctioned by Washington.

Still, he said Myanmar brewers faced strong competition from cheap booze smuggled in from Thailand, which he estimated accounts for up to a fifth of the market.

“It’s not good for us as it pushes prices lower and lower,” he said.  — AFP

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