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BrewDog agrees tie-up with Japan’s Asahi to boost sales

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BrewDog has established its first international joint venture with Japan’s Asahi as the UK’s largest craft brewer seeks to increase sales ahead of a planned London IPO.

The Scottish group aims to boost sales in Japan sixfold in five years after agreeing the deal with Japan’s largest brewer.

The partnership will market and distribute BrewDog beers such as Punk IPA, Hazy Jane and Elvis Juice, using Asahi’s distribution capability to push up supermarket sales. It could later establish a brewery in Japan, said James Watt, co-founder and chief executive. BrewDog already owns a bar in Tokyo.

The deal comes as BrewDog meets with bankers about a likely London listing, having appointed Rothschild as independent adviser to the IPO process.

“We see [the IPO] as a key part of our future,” Watt said. The joint venture “is a new type of initiative for us . . . If this is successful in Japan there might be similar type agreements with other partners in other geographies.”

Ahead of the pandemic, BrewDog had been looking to list in 2020. It has not committed to a revised timeline for the IPO, but is close to appointing lawyers, Watt said.

It aims to list in London but is also considering New York; a sale, rather than an IPO, is not on the cards, he added. BrewDog lists independence, in an industry dominated by big drinks multinationals, as one of its company “beliefs”.

The craft brewer, which will own 51 per cent of the venture, is seeking to take a greater share of the Japanese beer market, which was worth $28bn in 2020, according to Euromonitor. The venture will be led by chief operating officer, Daisaku Okuda, an almost 20-year veteran of Asahi Japan.

As it expands internationally, BrewDog has also established a franchise agreement with Ace-Aloha Group in India, which will open up to 50 BrewDog venues there.

BrewDog, which was valued at almost £2bn in its latest crowdfunding round, reported net revenues of £182m in 2020, up 4.2 per cent from a year earlier, but swung to a £13.1m pre-tax loss. As well as brewing, it has opened 99 bars and four hotels globally.

BrewDog’s beer sales were set to rise 25 per cent this year, Watt said. “Given all the challenges of last year, this year would be a result we are very happy with,” he added.

Founded in 2007, BrewDog has been the most high-profile group to emerge from the UK’s craft beer boom, raising more than £94m via crowdfunding. It drew attention in its earlier years through publicity stunts such as dropping taxidermy “fat cats” from a helicopter over London.

As well as the upheaval of the pandemic, the company faced criticism this year after a group of former staff accused it of having a misogynistic work culture, a “toxic” attitude to junior employees, and pursuing “growth at all costs”.

Watt said the criticism was “something we’re taking extremely seriously”. BrewDog has appointed culture advisers Wiser to carry out an independent review, is pushing up salaries, and has set up an ethics hotline as part of a series of changes.

BrewDog also appointed Blythe Jack, managing director at private equity firm TSG Consumer Partners — which bought a 22 per cent stake in 2017 — as its first chair following the claims. More governance changes would be unveiled ahead of the listing, said Watt.

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