A shake-up is underway in the global spirits industry, with Beam Global Spirits & Wine potentially under threat and the emergence of a "new Maxxium" on the cards, an industry analyst has told the World Whiskies Conference.

Medium-sized spirits firms are likely to come closer together in order to compete with the growing might of Pernod Ricard and Diageo, John Wakely, independent industry analyst with The Angels Share and an ex-investment banker with Lehman Brothers, told conference delegates in London today (20 April).

Wakely predicted the emergence of a "a new Maxxium", referencing the Maxxium Worldwide distribution venture, which this month largely transformed into a bilateral distribution alliance between The Edrington Group and Beam Global Spirits & Wine, following the departure of the other two partners - Remy Cointreau and Vin & Sprit.

"Some kind of Maxxium may re-emerge among the middle group of companies, because it will become excessively expensive [to distribute] as the Indian and Chinese markets open up. People will have to get used to the fact that working capital is going to be a fairly scarce resource."

Commenting on Pernod Ricard's strategy for the next couple of years, Wakely said that the French wine and spirits giant is likely to dispose of more brands, as the firm looks to reduce debt and streamline its portfolio.

He said that disposals of certain brands, possibly even The Glenlivet Scotch whisky, may "make sense when the market gets a little better".

Diageo, meanwhile, has the capital to do deals but may find itself constrained by competition issues, Wakely said.

"Diageo is sitting in a good position, but, from an anti-trust point of view, I don't believe that everybody in Washington necessarily likes them."

As for Fortune Brands, the owner of Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Wakely raised concerns about the firm's debt load. Fortune, which counts Jim Beam, Courvoisier Cognac and Maker's Mark among its spirits brands, has had difficulties in other areas of its business portfolio, notably in golf and housing, during the US recession.

"I'm not sure that Fortune survives the cycle if it continues like this," said Wakely, who is known in the drinks sector for his controversial statements.   

He said that Fortune must be "thanking God" that it failed in its attempt to acquire Absolut vodka owner Vin & Sprit, which was acquired via auction by Pernod Ricard last year.

Fortune put in a strong bid for Absolut, as did Bacardi, but Wakely said that a deal for either of the two firms could, with hindsight, have saddled them with unmanageable debt, particularly given the state of the US economy.