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Coors, Miller combine to take on Budweiser

October 10, 2007

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The makers of Coors and Miller beers intend to combine their U.S. brewing operations with a common goal: to take on Anheuser-Busch, which controls about half of the domestic market.

And Mark Ritter, owner of the Coors distributor that serves Lawrence, is ready to get on with it.

"This is huge for us," said Mark Ritter, president of Salina-based Crown Distributors LLC, which bought Coors distribution rights for the Lawrence market in July. "It allows us to finally have the financial resources to go toe to toe with Anheuser-Busch. :

"It's going to give us more ammunition for our guns."

Announcing a joint venture Tuesday were SABMiller PLC and Molson Coors Brewing Co.

Under terms of the agreement, SABMiller - whose brands include Miller High Life, Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft - would have a 58 percent economic interest in the venture. Holding 42 percent would be Molson Coors, maker of Coors, Coors Light, Molson Canadian and Blue Moon beers.

The combined operation would have $6.6 billion in annual net revenue, on U.S. sales of 69 million barrels.

Officials intend to sign the venture's final agreement later this year, and to close the deal in the middle of next year.

Ritter - whose Crown Distributors handles more than 1,100 accounts out of its Topeka warehouse, including all customers in the Lawrence area - said that while all existing distributors in Kansas would retain their rights to brands they currently handle, the joint venture would make it easier to combine operations in the future.

Ritter said he already had been in discussions with the owners of the "existing Miller houses" about selling or merging, likely within a year or two. Crown Distributors already handles Boulevard beer, Mike's Hard Lemonade, Seagram's Coolers, and Smirnoff Ice and Smirnoff Twisted.

"They see the writing on the wall, too," Ritter said. "In order for us to compete with Anheuser-Busch, we need to be together and not apart."

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