The first tankers of beer from US brewer Molson Coors have been dispatched to Coca-Cola Amatil's partly owned brewing facility in Griffith, New South Wales, as the Coca-Cola bottler counts down the final 77 days until it can re-enter the $11 billion Australian beer market.
The brewing site, currently controlled by its joint venture partner Casella Wines, whose Yellow Tail wine has an iron grip on wine drinkers in North America, is expected to soon start a test production run of select premium Molson Coors beers, with the first batch to be placed in kegs for domestic sale.
The heightened activity at the brewery, which trades under the name the Australian Beer Company and is jointly owned by CC Amatil and the Casella family, will soon emerge as a key production base for CC Amatil chief executive Terry Davis' fresh assault on the local beer market after a two-year absence.
Casella chief executive John Casella spoke on Tuesday to BusinessDay about some of the plans in place for CC Amatil's promised return to the beer market on December 17, including early informal talks with the two leading supermarket chains, Woolworths and Coles, that combined will be the biggest and most important customers for its portfolio of beers.
"We have informally met and had discussions [with Woolworths and Coles], but nothing formal until the partnership takes off, just talking to them about what our partnership is all about and what products will be emerging," Mr Casella said.
Last year CC Amatil announced it would enter a manufacturing joint venture with Casella by extending to Australia's largest wine exporter a $46 million loan to double its brewing capacity at its Griffith winery in south-western New South Wales.
The loan is due to convert to an equity stake next year with the joint venture to help increase brewing capacity for CC Amatil as it seeks to sell a range of premium beers into supermarkets, bottle-shops and pubs.
Sitting out of the beer market for two years after it sold its brewing joint venture to SABMiller in 2011, CC Amatil is now set to re-enter the market in December.
Mr Casella said his staff had been working closely with CC Amatil's brewing team led by its Australian beverages boss John Murphy, with the pace picking up as the December 17 start looms closer on the calendar.
"We are counting down the days," Mr Casella said.
"Both our teams are working fairly actively in getting product through the facility to be on the market from day one."
Bolstering its ambitions to become the third force in the Australian beer market, CC Amatil has stitched up a number of brewing deals with global players to give it a portfolio of beer brands when it starts commercial production. In August, CC Amatil inked a deal with the world's seventh largest brewer, Molson Coors, to distribute a number of its brands in Australia.
Mr Casella said the first batch of Molson Coors beers were on their way, with tankers expected to pull up to the Griffith brewery soon, at which time the beer will be transferred to kegs for the joint venture's first local sales.
"Initially we will [fill the kegs] here, and the Molson Coors bottle product will come from the US, or whichever country they choose, and then as the market develops we can fine-tune our brewing to make sure we can keep their product produced here."
Mr Casella declined to name which Molson Coors brands would first come off the production line.
Last year CC Amatil signed a deal with Molson Coors to distribute its Coors Light, Carling and Cobra brands across the South Pacific.
Mr Casella confirmed the joint venture would also continue to produce the Arvo beer brand first launched by Casella Wines in 2012.
"Arvo beer is doing quite well. It will become part of the joint venture, definitely."