Brown-Forman has denied that its move to merge its marketing teams for wine and spirits has been driven to cut costs, insisting that the new division will focus on brand-building.

The US drinks giant will see one team handle the marketing of its wine and spirits portfolio, including brands like Fetzer and Jack Daniel's, from 1 July.

Up to 65 sales and marketing jobs in the US will be lost but a Brown-Forman spokesman told just-drinks today (10 May) that the company would create new positions "at the field level" to sell its brands to retailers and distributors.

"We are doing what our distributors in the US have asked us to do for some time. They've told us that it will be more effective for us to present and sell all of our portfolio at one time."

The spokesman added: "This is not at all an effort to cut costs - what we want to do is invest more in brand-building activity so we get greater pull from consumers and we do a better job for our retailers and distributors."

Brown-Forman's flagship brands - Jack Daniel's, Southern Comfort and Finlandia vodka - would have their own individual "brand teams", the spokesman said. The marketing of the company's other wine and spirits brands would be grouped together in terms of distribution channel or price positioning, he added.

"We want to position the company to continue the success we have had. Fiscal 2005 was the best year in our history and the first three-quarters of fiscal 2006 has been even better," the spokesman said. "As the industry continues to evolve and consolidate, we felt we needed to make sure we kept the organisation tuned to take advantage of brand-building opportunities in the future."

The company's sales and marketing operations in Europe, Africa and Eurasia have undergone a revamp with separate teams handling Western and central and Eastern Europe.