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Philip Morris Cos. is not comfortable being an also-ran in any category. Despite its skill with smokes and snacks, its U.S. beer-marketing business has turned flat, and the company at presstime was close to selling its Miller Brewing Co. unit-valued at $5 billion to $6 billion-to South African Breweries.

Philip Morris acquired Miller 32 years ago and infused it with enough tobacco money and marketing savvy to boost the once-sleepy beer maker from the country's No. 7 spot with 4% market share to a serious second-place contender in 1994 with 23.1% share.

But today, for the first time since 1985, Miller controls less than 20% of the U.S. market. It contributes less than 3% to Philip Morris' bottom line and, with meager annual income growth forecasts of only 3% to 4%, is the only blight on the blue chip's balance sheet.

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