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Thursday, 19 July, 2001, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Beck's beer up for sale
A German waitress
German consumers are proud of their domestic beers
Beck's, Germany's top beer export brand, announced it was up for sale, but remained coy about which bidders were in the running.

Big foreign brewers have been queuing up to buy Beck's - famous for its insistence on the Reinheitsgebot beer purity law - since sale rumours began last year.

According to unconfirmed reports, Britain's Scottish and Newcastle, Belgium's Interbrew, US giant Anheuser-Busch and South African Breweries have begun preliminary talks.

The firm, which is privately owned and highly secretive, is believed to be worth over $800m (564m).

Scottish hopes

The favoured bidder is likely to be Scottish & Newcastle, which already has an exclusive deal to distribute Beck's in the UK.

Supermarket beer shelves
The beer market is becoming more global
A purchase by Interbrew could run into difficulties with the UK competition authorities, because the Belgian firm already controls Stella Artois, Britain's best-selling beer brand.

Anheuser-Busch, which makes Budweiser, has so far been extremely cautious in Europe, partly owing to a long-running row with Czech Budvar over the rights to the Budweiser trade mark.

Only South African Breweries, which is already running its slide-rule over Bass Brewers of the UK, is believed likely to be able to give Scottish & Newcastle serious competition.

Tradition

Founded in 1873, Beck is Germany's fifth-biggest brewery and sells its beer in 120 countries.

Beer accounts for 60% of the company's sales, which last year amounted to $742m.

It also has a glass bottle manufacturing arm and a soft drinks bottling operation.

Fears that the sale of such a high-profile brewer could provoke a nationalist backlash in Germany seem to be unfounded.

The German Brewer's Association said it did not fear that foreign encroachment onto the German market would endanger consumer choice.

Currently, some 5,000 brands of beer are on offer from German breweries.

See also:

04 Jul 01 | Business
Interbrew given Bass options
03 Jul 01 | Business
Scottish & Newcastle hit by charges
31 May 01 | Business
SAB eyes Bass Brewers
03 Dec 00 | Business
Byers 'to force Carling sale'
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