Shareholders back Little Creatures sale to Japan's Kirin in bittersweet vote
Little Word Beverages founding shareholder and director Howard Cearns and chairman Ian Cochrane.
It was a bittersweet moment for the West Australian team who created boutique brewer Little World Beverages more than a decade ago, as they watched shareholders vote through Japanese brewer Kirin's $362 million takeover bid.
The shareholder vote, which took place from LWB's Fremantle Little Creatures Brewery late yesterday, attracted an overwhelming 99.97 per cent in favour.
About half of the company's 1200 shareholders participated in the move, which subject to Federal Court approval, would see LWB delisted from the Australian Securities Exchange and become a wholly owned subsidiary of Lion - a wholly owned subsidiary of Kirin.
Before yesterday Lion already held a 36 per cent stake in LWB, leaving a shortfall of AU$256M to complete the takeover.
The ale house's founding four directors Nic Trimboli, Howard Cearns, David Martin and Adrian Finni, who created the company with the dream of finding the perfect pale ale, were all present to watch the final vote.
After listing on the ASX in 2005, LWB went on to build not only the Little Creatures empire, but White Rabbit beers and Pipsqueak ciders from its two breweries.
Another brewery was under construction in Geelong - outside of Melbourne - at the time of sale.
Although envisioned as a cellar door, the Little Creatures Brewery in Fremantle has become a landmark food and drink destination visited by more than 1 million people each year, Mr Cearns said.
"There's a sense of accomplishment from the guys," he said.
"We've got about 300 people working for us and the number of people who have come through the ranks over the past 13 years or so who affectionately call themselves 'creatures' has been amazing.
"Today was probably about fondly remembering the last 13 years of what we've created and the people who have helped us create it."
Mr Cears said he believed the boutique's culture was "ingrained" and although he conceded there would be some changes to the business he was optimistic LWB's brands would be largely maintained.
"With what Lion can offer in terms of their skills and in terms of opening up new markets it will be great for Little Creatures," he said.
"I definitely think that there won't be same sense of small, closed family - you can't have that anymore."
Mr Cearns remained tight-lipped about the founding team's next venture, but ruled out breweries.
"They're sort of fun projects that we want to do," he said. "We like working together so they're a few of the guys who have been involved in this journey will be involved in the next one."
The transaction goes to the Federal Court at Perth for final approval on Wednesday morning.
"We expect orders will be granted on Wednesday morning approving the scheme of arrangement following our shareholder meeting," LWB chief financial officer and company secretary Jason Markwart said.
The company would then make payment to shareholders in early October and LWB would be delisted from the ASX.
The LWB Board declared a 20 cent fully franked dividend and $5.10 per share for a total $5.30 per share, under the deal.
Lion has said it will retain all staff within the business and most of LWB's team intend to stay on under the new management, according to Mr Markwart.
Lion also owns the XXXX and Tooheys beer brands.