By Hiroyuki Kachi
TOKYO—Sapporo Holdings /zigman2/quotes/200413497/delayed JP:2501 -6.25% Ltd. is seeking a premium beer brand in the U.S. to increase its presence in North America, a Sapporo spokesman said Wednesday.
The Japanese brewer is looking to buy a premium brand or form an alliance to sell such a brand and has narrowed its list of potential targets to three or so, the Sapporo spokesman said, though he declined to specify any names.
"It's true that we want a brand," he said, adding that a deal is necessary to buttress its premium brand portfolio in North America, which currently comprises its Sapporo brand beer and Canada's Sleeman beer. The brewer is partly owned by U.S. investment fund Steel Partners.
Given persistent slow sales in its domestic market, Sapporo is trying to go on the offensive in niche markets outside Japan. It began selling its Sapporo brand beer in the U.S. in 1985, targeting resident Japanese. But the 2006 purchase of Sleeman Breweries Ltd., Canada's third-biggest brewer, has helped the Japanese firm broaden its customer base.
With the Toronto-based Sleeman, Sapporo is mapping a strategy to meet rising demand in the U.S. and Canada. With Sleeman's four breweries running at capacity, Sapporo has three options: build new facilities next to a brewery near Toronto; continue outsourcing production; or purchase more breweries.
Japan's beer industry is under pressure as the nation's shrinking population and soft economy con t inue to pull down domestic demand.
Sapporo's interest in buying a North American brand was reported Wednesday by Bloomberg News.