Heineken seeks to oust indebted Kingfisher

Heineken is likely to ask Vijay Mallya, who owes creditor banks more than $1bn , to step down from the board of United Breweries, India’s largest brewer.

Heineken seeks to oust indebted Kingfisher

Sources said such a move would likely be a prelude to the Dutch drinks firm raising its stake in the maker of Kingfisher beer to above 50%, betting on a small but fast-growing beer market.

Heineken acquired a 37.5% stake in United Breweries in 2008 through its takeover of Scottish & Newcastle and has since increased its holding to 42.4%.

With Mr Mallya distracted by debts from a collapsed airline venture, this could be a timely grab by Heineken in a market that is growing much faster than the global average.

Two thirds of Indians do not drink alcohol, often for religious or cultural reasons, but rapid urbanisation and a rising middle class are changing consumer habits.

India accounts for 13% of world beer consumption, and annual volume growth is expected to outpace the global average, and major markets such as China, through 2019, according to Moody’s.

The sources said Heineken was considering asking Mr Mallya to step down from the United Breweries board he chairs. Alternatively, it could call a shareholder meeting to vote on his ousting from a company his father built into an empire. A Heineken spokesman declined to comment on any move to tighten control overbrewer but said India remains an “exciting opportunity” for growth, given its demographics and strong economic fundamentals.

Mr Mallya and a spokesman for UB Group did not respond to requests for comment. Banks, regulators and investigators in India have turned up the heat on Mr Mallya, who inherited UB at the age of 28 and led it on an ambitious expansion.

Creaking under mountains of bad debt, banks themselves are under pressure from the government to chase up high-profile cases such as Mr Mallya, whose Kingfisher Airlines collapsed in 2013 leaving unpaid wages and angry creditors.

Mr Mallya has already been forced to give up control over United Spirits, part of his UB Group, to Diageo, which now owns about 55% of the company. He stepped down from the board last month, receiving a $75m pay off.

A member of India’s upper house of parliament, Mr Mallya is known as the ‘King of Good Times’ for his party lifestyle.

* Reuters

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