Editor's Viewpoint - Emperador's Move for Whyte & Mackay: Surprise Surprise
It looks like 2014 is shaping up to be the year of surprises in the spirits industry. First up, in January, we saw Beam Inc head in a direction that few of us foresaw. Then, today, Whyte & Mackay has been lined up to get a new – and equally unexpected – owner.
Earlier this afternoon (9 May), Whyte & Mackay's owner, India's United Spirits, announced that it has struck a deal to offload Whyte & Mackay to The Philippines' Emperador Inc.
Granted, we did get a slight heads-up earlier this week, when Emperador confirmed that it had started talks with United Spirits over a possible buy. But, like Beam's sale to Japan's Suntory Holdings, today's news has surprised many.
With the likes of Bacardi, Brown-Forman and Campari having been linked to Whyte & Mackay, many industry observers had thought one of the 'second division' of spirits players would snap up the Scotch whisky producer. Welcome, then, to Emperador, who, like South Africa's Distell a year ago, enters a category that is renowned for being most open to newcomers.
For Whyte & Mackay, here's hoping that the arrival of yet another new parent signals the start of a long and calm period for what Emperador described today as “a prized asset with excellent growth opportunity”. As I've said before, Whyte & Mackay is long overdue a stable parentage.
United Spirits, meanwhile, may bemoan the amounts involved. Having acquired Whyte & Mackay for GBP595m (then US$1.18bn) in 2007, the Indian firm may not be best pleased with today's proposed return of GBP430m (US$729m). Not only is this an indication of how the economic landscape has changed in seven years, however, but United Spirits had little choice but to sell: With anti-competitive authorities in the UK on its back, Diageo, the Indian firm's major shareholder - and owner of the Johnnie Walker blended Scotch brand - could see little alternative but to offload the division.
Of course, the likelihood is that the funds raised will eventually wend their way in the direction of UB Group, USL's former parent that continues to battle with a mountain of debt.
To a greater or lesser degree, then, today's news looks like the perennial win-win that all companies are keen to boast of when a sale is made.
To read an in-depth look at Emperador, click here
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