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Our story

There can only be one star in the story of SABMiller: the natural and refreshing drink that is beer. Brewing and selling beer is where we began in 1895, and beer accounts for the majority of our business today.

How did our belief in beer propel us through 120 years of history to become one of the world’s largest beverage companies? Beer may be our star but our story features a cast of characters with legendary quantities of vision, talent and persistence. Meet some of the people who have helped build the SABMiller of today.

1886 – 1895

Born in a gold rush

Our company today produces more than 200 beers in over 80 countries. But before we became a global success story, we were a South African success story.

SABMiller’s origins lie in the Johannesburg gold rush of 1886. Digging for gold under Africa’s sun was thirsty work, and enterprising brewers seized the opportunity to refresh the booming population. Foremost among these was Charles Glass, founder of the Castle Brewery. Glass was a perfectionist who would sell only the highest-quality beer, and his thriving business soon caught the attention of investors.

South African Breweries is founded

In 1895 The South African Breweries (SAB) was founded, with its head office being the Castle Brewery. Two years later, SAB became the first industrial company to list on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

Little could Charles Glass have known that his Castle Lager would still be South Africa’s most famous beer 120 years after its launch.

1895 – 1956

Becoming a South African giant

Over the next 60 years we became a leading force within South Africa’s social, cultural and economic landscapes.

South Africa’s growing population sought refreshment in beer, and by 1955 we were one of the three largest brewers in South Africa, alongside Ohlsson’s and Chandlers Union Breweries.

A defining moment in our history

1955 saw a defining moment in our history, when a change in excise duty saw beer become the most heavily-taxed beverage in South Africa. Despite being a smaller company than Ohlsson’s and Chandlers, we seized the opportunity to acquire our two competitors and streamline production and distribution within the sector. From this position of strength we were set to enter decades of uninterrupted growth.

1956 – 1992

The decades of diversification

Having acquired Ohlsson’s and Chandlers, SAB had a 98% share of the South African beer market.

In the decades ahead we proved ourselves to be pioneers in brewing, retailing, branding and marketing. What enabled us to become a South African powerhouse? Look no further than the people SAB employed.

Operating under apartheid

In 1948, South Africa’s National Party won its first election, ushering in 45 years of statuary segregation. In the face of growing trade restrictions and foreign-exchange controls, we focused on investing in our home market. From 1974, we began to diversify into mass-market retailing, and by the 1990s we had become a conglomerate selling everything from food to furniture.

But, at the heart of the company, we were still making great beer. And with the ending of apartheid in 1990, there was a clear opportunity for SAB to re-focus on beer and shift our horizons beyond South Africa.

1992 – 2001

International horizons

Building on a century of brewing expertise, we set out to become a truly international beverage company.

Our foray into international brewing was bold, in that it focused on the rapidly developing economies of central Europe, China and Africa. Where others saw risk, we saw opportunity. And our long experience in South Africa had given us considerable experience in running multicultural and multilingual operations.

A game-changing decade

Our 1993 acquisition of the Dreher brewery in Hungary signalled the beginning of this game-changing decade of mergers and acquisitions.

“We bought into six countries and 10 breweries in three years – it was a huge, daunting, challenge.”
Pete Lloyd | Former Managing Director, SAB Europe

To restore historic breweries to profitability, we applied the ‘SAB Ways’. These principles, distilled from our decades of experience, put quality, efficiency and local expertise at the heart of our approach.

Within a decade, our business was transformed. We had returned to our core beverage business, selling off or closing our non-core operations. And by 2001, turnover from our international operations accounted for 42% of group turnover; a remarkable achievement in a relatively short period.

Graham Mackay – a visionary leader

The name that would become synonymous with our expansion was Graham Mackay. Having joined SAB in 1978, Mackay became our chief executive in 1997. In the next year, Mackay took the pivotal decision to move our primary listing from Johannesburg to London, which was completed in March 1999.

With improved access to international markets, we set about raising capital to fuel our expansion.

1992 – 2011

A global business, excelling locally

By 2001, SAB was a leader in the race to define the shape of the global beer industry.

In another bold move, we changed our focus from developing markets to the world’s most sophisticated and thoroughly developed market: the United States. In 2002, SAB acquired the Miller Brewing Company, the second largest brewer in the USA.

Growing around the globe

With our new name SABMiller, we set out a vision to develop a balanced, global spread of businesses. A decade of major deals saw this dream become a reality. The next step was our move into Latin America, in 2005 through the acquisition of Colombia’s Bavaria S.A. In 2007 we acquired Koninklijke Grolsch N.V, and in 2008 we combined Miller Brewing Company with the US business of Molson Coors, to create our MillerCoors joint venture. In 2011 we acquired the Foster’s Group in Australia.

This decade confirmed Graham Mackay as one of the business world’s most remarkable chief executives. By 2011, he had led SABMiller to become the second-largest brewer in the world, and had delivered a staggering 430% share price growth since the London listing in 1999.

SABMiller today

Our passion for beer and brewing craftsmanship has taken us a long way from the Johannesburg gold rush of 1886.

Today, we have 70,000 employees working in more than 80 countries. We produce over 200 beers, and every minute of every day, more than 140,000 bottles of SABMiller beer are sold. We also have a growing soft drinks business through our own brands and as one of the world’s largest bottlers of Coca-Cola drinks.

Our history is one of exceptional growth and returns to shareholders. Our future is bright. We are working to become a globally integrated business that can replicate success efficiently, and we are seeking to grow sustainably and responsibly. The SABMiller of today is well placed to build on the success of the last 120 years.