Anheuser-Busch has refused to comment on reports linking it to talks with US soft drinks group Hansen Natural Corporation.

The US brewing giant was responding to reports of a potential partnership, ranging from a distribution deal to an outright acquisition of Hansen, which owns a stable of brands including fast-growing energy drink Monster.

A spokesman for A-B told just-drinks on Friday (31 March): "It is our policy to not confirm, deny or speculate on reports of potential investments, acquisitions, mergers, new business partnerships or other transactions."

However, Mark Swartzberg, an industry analyst at US bank Stifel Nicolaus said discussions between A-B and Hansen were taking place.

"We believe conversations between A-B and Hansen are indeed happening," Swartzberg wrote in a research note on Friday. Swartzberg said an agreement to distribute Monster would benefit A-B, as would a partnership to produce an alcoholic drink bearing the Monster name.

"An agreement to distribute Monster, owned by Hansen, could benefit from A-B's disproportionately high market share in the convenience store channel, where the majority of energy drinks are sold, and could further Monster's already strong growth."

He added: "A potential combination of an alcoholic energy drink bearing the Monster name could also make strategic sense for A-B, which has had limited success in the energy drink category."

A-B last year launched B(E) and Tilt, two caffeine-enhanced beer-based drinks in a bid to diversify away from a stagnant mainstream beer category. The Budweiser brewer has since made a number of moves to boost its brand stable, including tying up two import deals with Dutch brewer Grolsch and Singapore-based Asia Pacific Breweries for the Tiger Beer brand.

Hansen officials could not be reached for comment. Last month, Hansen reported record earnings and sales for 2005. Net income more than doubled to US$62.8m, while net sales leapt 93.5% to $348.9m.