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Comment - Wehring's Way: Lascelles de Mercado: Come-a Campari

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The arrival of Campari at the head table at Lascelles deMercado will be greeted with sighs of relief in Jamaica, I'll wager.

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After a quiet few years, thanks in no small part to the economic travails affecting its parent, the folk at Lascelles deMercado (LdM) and, more precisely, those at Appleton Estate and Wray & Nephew, will now be looking forward to the presence of a brand owner with the kind of funds these two brands need to drum the attention they deserve.

In late-2007, reports claimed that Wray & Nephew (W&N), the rum unit of LdM that operates both brands, was the subject of a stake purchase bid by Angostura Holdings, owned by Trinidad's CL Financial conglomerate. No sooner had the US$700m transaction completed in early-2008, than the Jamaican rum unit saw its new parent fall into difficulties.

In February 2009, a senior executive at CL Financial was moved to calm speculation that a sale of LdM was imminent. The reports stemmed from a move by the Trinidad government and central bank to take over several  assets owned by CL Financial, which has suffered due to the economic downturn.

Much as the exec said that CL was “fully intent on growing that business (W&N)”, it looked pretty obvious, even then, that the prospect of brand investment for Appleton Estate and Wray & Nephew was pretty bleak.

So, welcome, then, to Campari. Today's news, that the Italian firm is taking an 81.4% stake in LdM, with a view to buying up the whole equity for $414.8m, should hopefully herald a rebirth of sorts for the rum brands. Bar the global launch of the ultra-premium Jamaica Independence Reserve earlier this year, Appleton Estate has rarely made the headlines. For a brand with such a strong provenance and history, that's a sorry state of affairs.

Campari has cultivated a sexy spirits portfolio in recent years, led by Skyy Vodka and Wild Turkey Bourbon. Granted, these purchases may have been driven more by Campari's desire to 'international-ise' its stable, thereby leaning less on its troubled domestic market, but Appleton Estate and Wray & Nephew are far better-placed to have their voices heard than at any other time in the recent past.


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