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French Version

Heineken puts Lebanese expansion plans on hold

Political situation has led to 35-percent dip in sales

Dutch beer giant Heineken is postponing plans to build a brewery in Lebanon as a direct reaction to the current wave of political uncertainty looming over the country's economic future.

Heineken, which recently acquired top selling Lebanese beer Almaza, also said it expected to scale back production in light of a substantial dip in February sales following the murder of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

"Worried is maybe not the right word," said Ronald Voorn, head of the company's operations in Lebanon. "But there is a feeling of unease; a feeling of uncertainty - understandably, and anticipation for a solution," he told The Daily Star.

Voorn said February sales in the $50 million Lebanese beer industry were down by 35 percent, a trend largely attributed to a sharp decline in local nightlife over recent weeks.

"You can notice for yourself when you go into the city at night during the week," he explained. I've been out a couple of times to see what's going on and it was really quiet; and I got the same information from our customers."

Before Hariri's assassination last month, Voorn said Heineken was committed to building a brewery in Lebanon that would exclusively produce the firm's namesake brand.

However, according to Voorn, recent political events have cut short efforts to scout out a location for the new facility, which would be much larger than its existing 200-person brewery that is dedicated to bottling Lebanese brands Almaza and Laziza.

"The decision was taken to start looking [for a location], but at this moment, I'm putting it on hold until I know what's really going to happen in Lebanon," he said.

Voorn said he had been in close contact with Heineken chairman Tony Ruys.

"Everyone was looking at Lebanon as a country that was opening up; was preparing itself for the future," Voorn said. "I think that the current events, depending on what the outcome is, will change that perception. I'm not saying it has changed; I think it's most fair to say that it is a time to reassess what that attitude is going to be."

Amsterdam-based Heineken bought a 67-percent stake in Brasserie Almaza (Almaza Brewery) for an unpublished sum in 2002. In addition to producing Almaza, which was established in the 1930s, the company also bottles Laziza and Rex brands locally, while importing Heineken and subsidiary brands Amstel and Murphy's.

Beirut,03 14 2005
Habib Battah
The Daily Star
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