The Sleeman-Sapporo Thing

Back when I started this blog, I promised myself that it wouldn’t be one of those blogs that just posts links to other blogs without adding any commentary.

(I also promised myself that I wouldn’t use the word “blog” too much, but based on the paragraph above, I guess I’ve pretty much blown that one…)

However, as I was getting ready to post some thoughts about this past weekend’s takeover of Sleeman by Japan’s Sapporo Breweries – with a specific focus on what it might mean for Sleeman-owned Unibroue – I realised that a couple of other people had already said pretty much everything I was planning to say about it.

People like Stephen Beaumont, who posted his thoughts to On The House, a group-blog on the drinks industry that he contributes to occassionally:

Unibroue’s brands are both highly profitable and well-regarded, and yet at the same time they are also utterly foreign to Sapporo, who have no experience marketing anything like them. This, it seems to me, would indicate that the Japanese brewery might go in one of two directions.

Although the Japanese market for Belgian-style luxury beers is small, it is enthusiastic, which could mean that Sapporo might very well try to use Unibroue brands such as Maudite, Fin du Monde and Terrible as flagships for the super-premium segment there. Or they might decide that they want nothing to do with the brands and sell off the Quebec brewery, perhaps even returning it to local interests. The point in between, that being allowing the brands to languish, is to me the least likely scenario.

And hey, look, it’s Mr. Beaumont again, this time posting to his beer blog at That’s The Spirit:

What I view as the jewel in the Sleeman crown, Quebec’s Unibroue, may also be divested, as it represents a facet of the market – luxury brands crafted in the Belgian style – with which the Japanese have no experience. Conversely, I could also envision Sapporo embracing the profitable Unibroue line and expanding it both domestically and internationally, even making it an ultra-high end flagship in Japan. Either scenario I think signals a positive future for what is arguably Canada’s best-known craft brewery.

(Beaumont talks about some non-Unibroue factors in both of those posts as well, so I recommend you go and check them out.)

And course, our good friend Alan at A Good Beer Blog chimed in with some good observations:

[I]t is a little sad to note that no one is recognizing that there were a few factors that created the strain forcing the sale. The only one cited is the buck-a-beer discount phenomena. No one is discussing the move into the US which has not apparently gone well as Sleeman is placing its product next to quality micros and coming up short. No one is mentioning the challenge of buying up any number of larger micros across Canada and whether that project played out well. And no one is asking whether what is in the bottle is the issue. The way Sleeman is talked about you would think you were dealing with innovators like Dogfish Head or masters of quality like Brooklyn Brewery or even a micro brewery.

Thanks for the content, guys. I promise not to rip you off too often. You’ve just helped me fill some space until I can get around to finishing the last part of that damn Michigan festival report that no-one is waiting for…

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2 responses to “The Sleeman-Sapporo Thing

  1. I will have Smithers forward this month’s updated fee sheet for reckless quotation making.

  2. Pingback: Canada Strikes Back! « Beer, Beats & Bites

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