Coca-Cola backs Fiji craft beer

Coca-Cola Amatil is betting that Australia's love affair with sun-soaked Fiji will extend to the island nation's beer, after it bought Vonu Beer with the aim of turning the Fijian premium craft lager into a regional export winner.

Coca-Cola Amatil is betting that Australia's love affair with sun-soaked Fiji will extend to the island nation's beer, after it bought Vonu Beer with the aim of turning the Fijian premium craft lager into a regional export winner.

Created by two local entrepreneurs in Fiji, Vonu Pure Lager has been distributed across the island for a few years and is marketed as a premium hand-crafted beer sold under the slogan "Pure Fiji rainwater turned into beer".

CC Amatil has paid $NZ5 million ($4.4 million) for the intellectual property assets of Vonu Beer as well as all its trademarks and brands throughout the world, including Fiji.

It will bring Vonu Lager to Australia and New Zealand early next year, imported in packaged form, and is expected to play up that the beverage uses ingredients such as pure rainwater and does not use preservatives.

The company hopes Vonu Lager will strike a chord with Australian drinkers, who make up 50 per cent of the annual visitors to Fiji, and New Zealanders, who are Fiji's second largest group of tourists.

The deal, inked late last month by CC Amatil's majority-controlled Paradise Beverages business, will also deliver the beverage company an extra brand for its burgeoning beer portfolio as it prepares to re-enter the $11 billion Australian beer market in December. CC Amatil was forced out of the local beer sector in 2011 after the Coca-Cola bottler sold its half-stake in the Pacific Beverages brewing joint venture to SABMiller when the world's second largest brewer bought Foster's Group.

At the company's half-year results last month, CC Amatil chief executive Terry Davis unveiled the company had secured an exclusive agreement with Molson Coors to distribute several of its beer brands in Australia.

Mr Davis is eyeing the region's regional beer and cider market for its $1.4 billion profit pool and which generates some of the highest margins in brewing in the world.

CC Amatil is continuing to scour the globe for more deals to give it a running start for its Australian brewing arm when it re-enters the market on December 16, and is expected to use its Fiji brewing arm to broaden its depth of labels.

In 2012, CC Amatil won agreements to distribute Corona Extra, Carlsberg, Molson Coors' Coors Light, Carling and Cobra brands in Fiji and the south Pacific. It also sells Fiji Bitter.

CC Amatil invested $F3.7 million ($2.1 million) in the Fiji brewer's plant and equipment last year and plans to spend up to $F25 million more to redress years of underinvestment.

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