In the Spotlight - AG Barr & Rubicon
AG Barr last week took one step closer to becoming a cosmopolitan brand owner as it snapped up tropical fruit juice group Rubicon on Tuesday (5 August).
The Scotland-based company, owner and maker of the iconic Irn Bru brand bought Groupe Rubicon last week for GBP59.8m (US$116.9m) - the biggest purchase in its history.
The new addition to the Barr family is a far cry from the group's macho image, the mango, lycee and passion fruit juices certainly softening the 'pick-me-up' hangover cure image associated with the company's flagship brand, Irn Bru.
Yet the new move is clearly a clever one for Barr, which has no doubt noticed the upward trend and increasing demand for exotic juice drinks. Traditionally focusing on carbonates, the company is clearly showing more of an interest in healthier drinks.
Retail sales of still and juice drinks in the UK have risen by 37% from 2003 and this new acquisition offers the Scottish company an opportunity to expand into new markets outside of its traditional Highland comfort zone.
In contrast, the UK carbonates market has reported falling growth for a number of years and is forecast to fall by 1.3% from 2007 to 2011.
"The acquisition is a great opportunity for Barr," said chief executive Roger White on Tuesday. "It is in line with our core strategy of developing our portfolio and increasing the scale of our business through differentiated quality brands, at the same time it strengthens our position in the growing juice drinks category."
Headquartered in Wembley, North London, Rubicon has a relatively small operation of around 100 staff and a factory in Gwent, Wales. Set up in 1981, the company takes its name from the Italian river that Julius Caesar crossed in 49BC.
For the last 20 years it has out-sourced the manufacturing of its drinks to AG Barr and made adjusted operating profits of GBP4.7m last year on sales of GBP27.3m.
Albeit AG Barr's largest acquisition yet, it is certainly not its first - the company has already bought into the sports drinks, vitamin-infused water and energy drinks markets.
The company bought the water brand Strathmore in 2006 for GBP15m and launched the energy drink Irn Bru 32 in the same year.
In October 2007, the group signed an exclusive five-year partnership agreement with the North American energy drinks brand Rockstar to sell its double-sized energy drink brands across the UK.
Three months later and the group confirmed the acquisition of two UK functional water brands, Vitaminsmart and Vitsmart from Chartered Brands. Total consideration was GBP350,000, including an element of stage payments.
Only weeks later and yet another acquisition. This time Taut International, including the Taut (UK) business responsible for the Taut sports drinks range for a nominal consideration of GBP1.
Despite the group's persistence in the still drinks and fruit juice market, Barr continues to face fierce competition from the likes of drinks giant Coca-Cola, which last year announced its intention to become a "major player" in the bottled water category.
On announcing full year pretax profits of GBP20.83m in April, CEO White hit out at competitor brands owned by Coca-Cola and Britvic: "This market share performance contrasts starkly with competing other flavoured carbonate brands - Fanta and Tango - both of which lost significant volume and share over the year. The Irn-Bru brand is now in value share terms bigger than the combined size of the Lilt, Sprite and Tango brands."
This success in defending its home market, a feat claimed only by Irn-Bru and Peru's Inca Kola, has led to ongoing speculation that either Coca-Cola or arch-rivals PepsiCo would attempt to buy AG Barr.
To date, no deal has yet surfaced and with a strong start to the year and GBP20.8m in profits, will the family-run business with a proud 133-year history have the willpower to say no when the big boys come knocking?
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