The Battle Begins Early for Beam as Suntory Announces Surprise Agreed Bid for US Company

Suntory’s agreed bid of US$16 billion for all of Beam has come as a surprise and will lead to a number of international players, led by Pernod Ricard putting together counter bids.

In some ways Suntory going for Beam is not a surprise, in that the company, along with its fellow Japanese companies have been looking to diversify away from its moribund markets and undoubtedly Beam’s array of international brands would make it a truly global spirits player. However, Suntory’s main focus in recent years had been on soft drinks and thus this has been slightly surprising.

While the bid from Suntory is far from ideal timing for Pernod Ricard, in terms of its debt level  –  probably a reason for Suntory bidding now – it will no doubt react by leading a counter bid. The French company would not want to miss out on key brands such as Jim Beam and Sauza Tequila, which are the second biggest brands globally in their respective categories with 19% and 11% of global volumes according to Euromonitor International, nor the possibility of  small batch bourbon such as Maker’s Mark.

Due to competition issues Pernod  was never going to be able to bid for Beam outright and was always going to lead a consortium. This consortium will include fellow international companies who similarly cannot afford to miss out on the rare opportunity to acquire some high quality brands. Chief amongst them will be the cash rich companies such as Diageo, William Grant, Rémy Cointreau, less cash rich ones such as Campari and Bacardi, as well as local North American and Spanish companies such as Sazerac and Varma, looking to improve their presence in their regions.

Diageo is unlikely to be a major player in the acquisition as it will face competition issues with the Jim Beam brand in Australia and it has expressed little interest in Sauza. The one brand that would interest the British company is Maker’s Mark – a small batch bourbon a category which it is weak in.

Whatever the outcome, 2014 certainly looks as though it will be an interesting time in global spirits.