Kirin Holdings-Owned Lion Group Hires Simon Thorpe to Lead US Craft Unit

Longtime beer industry veteran Simon Thorpe has been tapped to lead the North American craft beer division of Kirin Holdings-owned and Australia-based Lion Pty Limited, announced today.

The former Pabst Brewing CEO will serve as the managing director of Lion’s mostly undeveloped U.S. craft business. Thorpe will report to Matt Tapper, the managing director of Lion Global Markets, which was launched in 2015 and is tasked with expanding the company’s Australian and New Zealand craft beers and ciders into international markets.

“We are working quickly and with determination to create a U.S. company that capitalizes on the continued growth of craft, and the changing needs of customers and consumers,” Tapper said via a press release.

It’s a newly created role for Lion, the company Kirin has tasked with “spearheading investment in craft brewing around the world,” and it indicates the company’s growing interest in acquiring U.S. craft breweries.

In the press release, Thorpe hinted at possible future partnerships, saying the U.S. craft market was at a “very important stage of development.”

“Achieving a leading position in this highly fragmented and dynamic market depends on the strength and flexibility of brands, robust and truly effective brewing and distribution networks, transforming innovation capabilities beyond what we have been used to in craft and collaborative partnerships of scale, so that breweries can respond to the next generation of consumers,” he said.

Thorpe, who spent seven years as the president of Duvel Moortgat USA prior to serving as CEO of Pabst for about two years, a role he left last September, is an M&A specialist. While at Duvel, he engineered the purchases of Kansas City’s Boulevard Brewing in 2013 and California’s Firestone Walker Brewing in 2015.

Speaking to Brewbound, Thorpe declined to comment on the size and scope of Lion’s U.S. ambitions.

Nevertheless, the company’s desire to “achieve a leading position” within the U.S. craft beer sector suggests the Kirin subsidiary could be prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on building its North American presence.

A potential piece of Lion’s emerging U.S. business – one that today includes the importing of Australia’s Little Creatures Brewing, and a forthcoming San Francisco brewery and restaurant — could be New York’s Brooklyn Brewery.

Kirin Holdings owns a 24.5 percent stake in Brooklyn, which is the 12th largest craft brewery in the U.S., according to trade group the Brewers Association.

Brooklyn itself holds undisclosed minority positions in California’s 21st Amendment Brewing and Colorado’s Funkwerks.

Asked what role those breweries would play in Lion’s development of its U.S. business, Thorpe said the company’s “goal is to provide practical support and resources to the Brooklyn team.”

“That relationship is very important to Lion’s long-term ambition to make a scale presence in the U.S,” he said.

In an email to Brewbound, Brooklyn Brewery president Robin Ottaway said Kirin and Lion were “excellent and important partners, especially in Japan and Australia.”

“We’ve known and respected Simon for years and look forward to working together in the U.S.,” he wrote.

Non-beer investments could also be on the table.

According to an investor presentation from February, Kirin Holdings said it planned to allocate upwards of $1 trillion yen ($8.9 billion USD) over the next three years “for investment in creation of intangible value, growth of existing businesses, and the establishment and promotion of new businesses bridging pharmaceuticals and food and beverages.”

Both Lion and Kirin have robust non-alcoholic divisions overseas, and Kirin has charged Lion with forming a “competitive position” in international craft beer markets, as well as expanding “craft coffee, kombucha and other-non-alcoholic beverage businesses,” according to the deck.

“Kirin has chosen Lion to lead its global craft strategy, which is a vote of confidence in the capability and vision of the Lion business and the team,” Thorpe told Brewbound.

Outside of the U.S., Lion already owns a number of craft breweries. Earlier this year, the company purchased Magic Rock Brewing Company in the United Kingdom. Last July, it acquired London’s Fourpure Brewing.

Lion’s international craft beer portfolio also includes the aforementioned Little Creatures, as well as Malt Shovel Brewery, Kosciuszko and James Squire in Australia. In New Zealand it owns Panhead Custom Ales and Emerson’s Brewery.

A press release with additional details is included below.

Lion Appoints Managing Director for North American Craft Beer Business

3rd May 2019: Australian headquartered brewing company Lion has appointed US beer industry leader, Simon Thorpe, to the newly created position of Managing Director for its emerging North American craft beer business.

Simon Thorpe will report to Matt Tapper, the Managing Director of Lion Global Markets, who said:

“I am pleased Simon has decided to join Lion on its journey to build its craft beer presence in the United States. We are working quickly and with determination to create a US company that capitalises on the continued growth of craft, and the changing needs of customers and consumers. Simon’s experience and leadership in this field will be invaluable in achieving our goals.”

Simon was recently the CEO of Pabst Brewing Company, where he set the independent beer business on a path toward premiumisation and higher margin products. Before that he was CEO of Duvel Moortgat USA, where for more than seven years he was instrumental in helping the company expand its presence in the USA, overseeing the purchase of Boulevard Brewing in 2014 and Firestone Walker in 2015. Simon was previously President & CEO – USA and Head of Global M&A and Strategy for InBev.

Simon Thorpe, Managing Director, Lion, North America, said:

“The US craft beer market is at a very important stage of development. Achieving a leading position in this highly fragmented and dynamic market depends on the strength and flexibility of brands, robust and truly effective brewing and distribution networks, transforming innovation capabilities beyond what we have been used to in craft and collaborative partnerships of scale, so that breweries can respond to the next generation of consumers. I look forward to helping build on Lion’s authentic brewing culture, their depth of experience from around the world and their tremendous resources and capabilities to create a leading platform for our brands and partners in North America and fulfill our goal of becoming a major US Craft company.”

In Lion’s home markets of Australia and New Zealand, Craft is now the fastest growing segment in the beer category, and much of the growth has been driven by Lion’s award-winning portfolio, including Little Creatures, Kosciuszko and James Squire, which has been developed from a combination of Lion’s innovation and through partnerships with like-minded breweries. The Lion team is responsible for spearheading investment in craft brewing around the world for its parent company, Kirin.

Since 2015, Lion has demonstrated its commitment to developing an international community of craft brewers through the development of microbreweries worldwide and its recent acquisitions of Fourpure and Magic Rock craft breweries in the UK. In 2017, Lion began importing its leading Australian craft beer, Little Creatures, into the North American market where distribution has since expanded to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington DC and Vancouver. Recently, Little Creatures announced that it will be opening a new microbrewery and restaurant in San Francisco in the Summer of 2019, featuring beers brewed on-site as well as a range of its craft beers imported from Australia.

As well as reporting to Matt Tapper, Simon will also work alongside Steve Myers, Managing Director of Lion’s North American Wine Business, Distinguished Vineyards & Wine Partners. Simon will be based in Los Angeles CA.

About Lion

Lion is a leading beverage and food company with a portfolio that includes many of Australasia’s favourite brands in beer, wine and dairy. We employ more than 6,700 people across Australia and New Zealand predominantly and take great pride in our local manufacturing footprint, which spans 38 sites – including large breweries, craft breweries, wineries, dairy farms, milk, cheese, yoghurt and juice sites as well as venues. Lion operates historic breweries, such as James Boag and XXXX Castlemaine Perkins, and is a leader in craft brewing, with brands such as James Squire and Malt Shovel, Little Creatures and Kosciuszko. The Lion Group is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kirin Holdings. Kirin is a global, multi-industry food and beverages company headquartered in Tokyo.

Lion’s Global Markets (LGM) business was launched in 2015 to take Lion’s Australian and New Zealand craft beers and ciders into new international markets and accelerate the growth of its wine business in North America. LGM is a dedicated team operating in an entrepreneurial way with a lean, fast, and flexible operating model. With significant growth in craft beer forecast for the coming years, Lion has identified North America, Asia and the UK as markets where it can leverage its craft experience and brands from Australia and New Zealand to drive long term growth outside of its home markets.

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