Like any successful marriage, the Lagunitas Brewing Co. partnership with Heineken International will require some give-and-take with both sides listening and being receptive to things they are not accustomed to doing.
Lagunitas founder and owner Tony Magee believes the partnership with the world’s third-largest brewing company can work, saying that Heineken CEO Jean-François van Boxmeer finds it “a project he believes in.”
The unusual 50-50 partnership, announced Tuesday, is designed to give Heineken a stake in the fast-growing craft beer sector while allowing Lagunitas to become a global brand. Magee doesn’t foresee disagreements, but expressed confidence that the two sides would work through them if they occur.
Most local North Bay mergers and acquisitions involve one party taking a controlling stake in the business, as witnessed this year with the growing consolidation in the wine industry. Already this year, large vintners have purchased the Benziger Family Winery, J Vineyards and Winery and B.R. Cohn Winery.
There have been joint ventures by established businesses, but those deals result typically in a new entity. The most notable one locally was the Opus One partnership between Robert Mondavi and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild to create a Bordeaux-style wine in Napa Valley.
“A 50-50 buyout like Heineken did with Lagunitas is quite unusual. Usually, it’s a 51 percent buyout. … It then creeps up over a period of time,” said Robert Nicholson, a principal at Healdsburg-based International Wine Associates, who has handled many winery and vineyard sales on the North Coast.
“It’s unusual for a reason,” said Tom McCormick, executive director for the California Craft Brewers Association. “Usually, one party or the other wants to have controlling interest.”
Magee, however, did not want to give up controlling interest of the company he founded in 1993 and persuaded Heineken that a joint partnership would be in both of their interests.
“It’s classic Tony,” McCormick said. “I commend him for being able to do that.”
The Lagunitas-Heineken deal is likely the biggest in the history of the U.S. craft brewing industry, McCormick said. Financial terms were not disclosed but people familiar with recent craft beer acquisitions said it likely valued Lagunitas at about $1 billion, which would put Heineken’s investment at around $500 million.
Both sides will have to be flexible going forward, said Jon Moramarco, a beverage industry consultant. Heineken will likely have to be flexible on how Lagunitas presents its decidedly iconoclastic brand in foreign countries, and the Petaluma company will have to be likewise amenable to the Amsterdam-based brewer’s approach to global business systems, Moramarco added. For example, foreign countries do not have an antiquated beer distribution system like the United States, which regulates alcohol sales through a three-tier system of manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers.
“What (Tony’s) going to find is there is a lot to learn,” Moramarco said.
Magee, who wrote a book entitled “So You Want To Start a Brewery?” said he realized there is a learning curve to selling beer globally.
“The spirit of it is where we should be learning from each other,” Magee said. “There is an awful lot they (Heineken) have to learn from us in that we are re-inventing beer. … There is a lot we can learn from them: How do you sell beer in Zimbabwe?”