The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is seeking input on the Lion acquisition of Fermentum as it decides whether to approve the sale.
Fermentum Group, founded by Brad Rogers, Ross Jurisich and Jamie Cook, produces brands including Stone & Wood, Two Birds, Fixation, Little Dragon and Sunly Seltzer. It generates about $100 million a year in sales and its stable of craft beer brands make up about 1% of the Australian beer market. The deal with Lion is estimated by the Australian Financial Review to be worth around $500million.
The ACCCC noted: “Fermentum and Lion manufacture and distribute, or have interests in companies which manufacture and distribute, a range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages including beer, cider, alcoholic seltzer and kombucha. The ACCC’s investigation is focused on the impact on competition.”
In particular, the ACCC is seeking views on:
- Whether Lion and Fermentum compete closely for the supply of beer
- The likely impact of the proposed acquisition on the price or service levels for the supply of beer
- The availability of alternatives to customers and the ability of these alternatives to expand
It notes that acquisitions that are likely to have the effect of substantially lessening competition in a market are prohibited.
Responses are required by October 5, 2021 via email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the title: Submission re: Lion/Fermentum – attention Sam Campbell/Annabel Garrard.
Debate rages over sale
There was a mixed response to the announcement online. Some have accused the formerly “proudly local and independent” brand of being hypocritical.
“Guess no more Stone & Woods for me. Independent beers or nothing. Another sad day for the industry,” one said.
“If you hadn’t of championed the ‘proudly local and independent’ cry since your inception and hadn’t ragged on others for ‘selling out’, most people would just be congratulating you guys, but this just seems like such a hypocritical move given your past history,” another wrote.
Cook noted in an interview with The Crafty Pint that the intentions of the four founding families – Northern NSW publican Tom Mooney is the fourth founder – drove the decision to sell to Lion. Two of the four had decided they wanted to explore other avenues in their lives, which created what Cook described as a “stalemate”. Read more here.
Beer industry analyst Matt Kirkegaard, who is the editor of Brews News, told ABC News the sale was a bombshell for the sector.
“They had so loudly protested that they were going to stay independent and had criticised others for making the same decision,” he explained.
“They’ve pioneered so much, and there is so much good that they’ve done, but unfortunately, their legacy is going to be the way that they exited it and the damage that they’ve done.
“The IBA (Independent Brewers Association) may as well change its name to the Local Brewers Association or the Small Brewers Association because any independent that tries to grow is going to be met with scepticism and scorn now.
“Because Stone & Wood’s sale says you can’t grow, you have to sell if you want to go to the next level, and that’s something that they’d overtly said was different about them.”
However, Your Mates Brewing noted: “There is a lot of chat out there focusing on the negatives, but we would like to focus on the positives! Stone and Wood paved the way for not only our beer company, but arguably every independent beer company in Australia.
“We decided to enter into this industry partly because of how passionate the entire Stone & Wood team were about great beer. They were never competitors in our eyes, we genuinely saw them as peers and mates.
“Jamie, Ross and Brad, thank you for building an amazing brand focused on its culture, people and your mission to the environment. You have helped us shape our own legacy more than you are probably aware, and you will always be considered as the OG’s of the industry in our schooner glass. Best wishes for your future endeavours, you guys bloody deserve it!”