Olly Wehring

Whyte & Mackay - how much is enough?

By: Olly Wehring - 22 August 2006 10:46

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It’s a maxim in business that everything has a price - and that truism could soon be tested at UK distiller Whyte & Mackay.

The company has started attracting interest from potential suitors after enjoying the first positive results of a turnaround in strategy over the last three years.

Whyte & Mackay has embarked on a series of cost-cutting measures and invested heavily in its brand portfolio, including its namesake Scotch whisky brand and Vladivar vodka. The moves underpin the company’s desire for a change in direction - away from low margin, private-label Scotch towards more premium brands.

Growing sales of the company’s branded whiskies are a sign that the hard work is beginning to pay off. However, that success has made Whyte & Mackay an attractive asset - and reportedly at the front of the queue is Indian billionaire Dr Vijay Mallya, the head of spirits giant UB Group.

Whyte & Mackay decided to keep its Invergordon Distillers business after witnessing a revival in the price of own-label whisky and has admitted that it has received “a number of approaches” for parts of the business.

Should those approaches turn into concrete offers, how long will the company’s largest shareholder, South African business tycoon Vivian Imerman, rebuff any advances? Whyte & Mackay’s focus on premium brands is a sensible move but it may only be a short-term fix. Healthy returns on upmarket whiskies like Isle of Jura are constrained by a distilling process that can take a decade.

Imerman is known to want to build the Whyte & Mackay business but his commitment to the company would be tested if Dr Mallya - known as India’s answer to Richard Branson - gave him an offer he couldn’t refuse.

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