The biggest beer merger in history took a major step toward becoming finalized on Wednesday. Anheuser-Busch InBev has gained antitrust approval from the United States Justice Department to go through with its purchase of SABMiller, reports Bloomberg.
Approval is contingent on AB InBev's agreement to sell off SABMiller's stake in MillerCoors to Molsen Coors Brewing Co., the company announced. That will prevent Budweiser and Miller, America's biggest beer brands, from being produced under the same umbrella. The company will also "refrain from practices that restrict distribution of smaller, competing brands," according to Bloomberg, which will theoretically keep the merger from damaging this country's craft beer industry.
In a statement, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sonia Pfaffenroth said giving craft beer a level playing field an preventing a macro monopoly were key to the Justice Department's decision.
"The remedy we secured will help preserve and promote competition in the multi-billion dollar U.S. beer industry," Pfaffenroth said. "The two largest U.S. brewers — ABI and MillerCoors — will now remain independent competitors after the deal. The settlement also preserves the ability of smaller brewers — including brewers of craft and import beers — to compete against ABI by protecting their access to important distribution networks. Independent distributors that sell ABI's beer will have the freedom to sell and promote the variety of beers that many Americans drink."
The approval comes despite concerns previously voiced by some U.S. lawmakers. In a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee in December, elected officials expressed worry that the merger would, in fact, hurt American craft brewers. But, the stipulation that requires AB InBev to play fairly may have calmed some of those fears.
"With today's agreement, we have taken a significant step forward on the transaction, which will create the world's first truly global brewer," Carlos Brito AB InBev chief executive officer, said in a prepared statement. "Our combination with SABMiller will bring more choice to more beer drinkers — and extend the global reach of our iconic American brands, such as Budweiser — in markets outside of the U.S."
It's not a done deal yet, but AB InBev says it expects the transaction, which was first announced last November, to finally be completed "in the second half of 2016."