Sleeman’s N.S. brewery for sale

The Japanese beer giant that owns Canada’s third largest brewing company has put its Dartmouth brewery up for sale.

Sapporo International, the owner of Sleeman Breweries, announced Wednesday it will permanently close the facility by July if no buyer comes forward, but has "already engaged some prospective buyers" who’d like to keep the plant in the brewing business with some or all of its 32 staff.

The Dartmouth plant now produces about 2.7 million litres of beer per year, which Sapporo said Wednesday is less than two per cent of Sleeman’s total annual volume from its plants across the country.

Selling the Dartmouth brewery is meant to help "establish the long-term competitive resilience we need in an aggressive market by taking advantage of the economies of scale our North American operations offer," Sleeman CEO Shige Yokoi said in a release, also citing the "long-term productivity" of the Sleeman plants at Guelph, Ont., Vernon, B.C. and Chambly, Que.

"By actively advancing a sale now, we very much hope to secure the jobs and viability of this brewery," Yokoi said. "But in the long-term interests of our North American operations, we felt we needed to achieve some efficiencies of scale right away to stay competitive against our much larger continental and global rivals."

Sapporo said Wednesday it will also shift 20 million litres of production of its U.S.-bound Sapporo products from the Sleeman brewery in Guelph — where the Sleeman company was first founded in 1834 — to a an unnamed "third party brewing partner" in the U.S. starting in June.

Bottled and kegged Sapporo beers have been exported from Guelph to the U.S. since 2002, but by contracting out most of that production, Sapporo said it "will be able to deliver on consumer demand in a more productive manner" by the end of its second fiscal quarter of 2013.

The Guelph brewery, however, will continue to produce all Sapporo products for Canada, plus Sapporo Premium in 22-ounce cans and Sapporo Reserve in 22-ounce cans and 12-ounce bottles for both the U.S. and Canadian markets.

Sleeman’s 10 eponymous core brands are sold across the country, but the company also makes regional brands such as Okanagan Spring in British Columbia and Unibroue in Quebec and produces the Stroh beer brands such as Old Milwaukee and Pabst Blue Ribbon in Canada. Sleeman also markets and/or distributes imports such as Guinness, Sol, Dos Equis and Tecate.

The Sleeman Brewing and Malting Co. that formed in Guelph in 1834 shut down in 1933, but the business was revived by its founder’s great-great grandson, John Sleeman, in 1988, taking over B.C.’s Okanagan Spring in 1996 and Quebec’s Unibroue in 2004.

The younger Sleeman, whose business also produced Sapporo’s beers for the Canadian market under contract, agreed to the Japanese firm’s $400 million friendly takeover bid in 2006.

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