BRUSSELS Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BR), the world's largest beer maker, plans to join rivals with a push into Vietnam at the end of next year, constructing a brewery to tap the large and fast-growing Asia market.
Vietnam, with a population of some 90 million, is seen as one of the most attractive markets in the region for brewers, with beer sales seen growing by about 10 percent per year on average for 2010-2020.
"We think our global brands have a big appeal, especially Budweiser... so we think it's a natural place to go after our position in China," AB InBev Chief Executive Carlos Brito told reporters after the company's annual shareholder meeting.
"It's a brewery that we'll build in Vietnam. We already have the land licence," he added.
Rivals Carlsberg (CARLb.CO), Heineken (HEIN.AS) and SABMiller (SAB.L) all have operations in Vietnam, either directly or through joint ventures.
Brito also expressed his delight that AB InBev was nearing the end of its planned full takeover of Mexico's Grupo Modelo after the settlement of its dispute with the U.S. Justice Department.
AB InBev plans to realize $1 billion of synergy gains over four years and also sees huge potential in the Corona brand from its $20.1 billion purchase of the half of Modelo it does not already own.
Brito said the company had succeeded with its international expansion of Budweiser, since InBev bought Anheuser-Busch in 2008. Now launched in China, Brazil and Russia, international sales rose 6 percent last year from no growth in 2008.
"If you project that same approach to Corona, not the numbers,... it makes us very excited about moving with this brand."
The Modelo deal is expected to be sealed in about four to six weeks time, with a variety of transactions in Mexico, such as the merger of two subsidiaries, needing to take place before a mandatory offer was launched.
Corona is already the leading import beer in 38 countries and the fourth most valuable beer brand worldwide. However, it is currently sold by a variety of different importers and distributors around the world.
Brito said that AB InBev would respect existing contracts, but also look to see whether it might be better to sell Corona itself in a given country.
"We will see what's there and depending on the geography to see if the brand is best served within our system or with the current distributor or with another distributor," he said.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by David Cowell)