It's been a tough week for global distributor Maxxium, whose future now hangs in the balance following deals to secure the departures of Pernod Ricard and Rémy Cointreau last week.

Global drinks giant Pernod Ricard said it will pull its Vin & Spirit brands, in particular Absolut Vodka, from the Maxxium distribution group from October, while its domestic rival Remy will leave the alliance next March.

Both companies announced the move in separate statements on Wednesday (3 September).

Rémy Cointreau will pay Maxxium compensation of EUR224m in March under terms to end the contract, while the French group's 25% equity stake in Maxxium will be redeemed for EUR60.4m at the same time. Under similar terms, Pernod Ricard will pay Maxxium a fee of EUR59m in October, while its quarter share will also be redeemed for EUR60.4m in March.

For Pernod, the agreement allows it to push through synergies from its takeover of former Swedish state-owned Vin & Sprit, estimated in March at as much as EUR150m ($216.7m) before tax, sooner than originally planned.

It would speed up integration of the Absolut label and accelerate the growth of the brand, which is the jewel in the crown of V&S, it said.

So if Pernod feels it is too big for Maxxium now, what of Rémy?

The company said it expected to have new distribution agreements in place by March. However, the very reason it hooked up with The Edrington Group, Beam Global Spirits & Wine and - latterly - V&S Group in the first place, was because the French company found its distribution costs too high.

Maxxium was created in 1999 following the birth of Diageo. As Maxxium's former CEO, Ben van Doesburgh, said: "Maxxium was formed as an alternative to consolidation in the industry." In short, the second tier drinks companies combined forces, in order to take on the new giants in the industry.

One analyst noted: "They [Rémy] are unlikely to be able to distribute on their own effectively at lower costs than they are currently incurring in Maxxium."

Speculation is on-going that Remy has manoeuvred itself out of Maxxium as a pre-cursor to an acquisition by Diageo, a claim that both sides have declined to comment on in the past.

"We are working on it, that's all I can say at the moment," Rémy chief executive Heriard Dubreuil told just-drinks last November.

When asked if Rémy Cointreau had met with Diageo to discuss a possible tie-up between the two, she added: "We've been preparing. I'm not going to give you any tips at the moment, because we've been talking, and discussing also with our partners in Maxxium."

Dubreuil also confirmed "definite" plans for the company to set up its own company in China and South-East Asia.

"The form of the company has not been defined yet, but we will be operating it ourselves," she added.

The timing of Rémy's exit is also interesting. If indeed it is looking to attract a suitor then the current state of the global economy is going to make its ability to court a partner far harder.

Maxxium, meanwhile, must move on from this latest hurdle. Some analysts have questioned its ability to continue with only Edrington and Beam involved.

From 1 April, Edrington and Beam will begin a new international spirits distribution alliance. The two said they had agreed to take joint ownership of Maxxium businesses in ten markets, including UK, Russia, China and Spain.

Its aim is to achieve market-leading positions in Bourbon through Jim Beam and Maker's Mark, Scotch Whisky via The Famous Grouse and The Macallan, Canadian Whisky via Canadian Club, Tequila via Sauza and Rum via Brugal.

Beam will then handle distribution for both firms in eight markets, including Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Canada, while Edrington will be responsible for Scandinavian markets, as well as Taiwan and Korea.

Covering 24 "key" markets in all, the alliance will have combined annual sales of more than EUR750m. Maxxium Worldwide had net sales of almost EUR1.7bn in 2007.

Both Edrington and Beam have been careful not to signal the dissolution of Maxxium.

Beam chief executive Tom Flocco told just-drinks last week that Maxxium would maintain a central IT and logistics hub, but that decision-making would be pushed down to local markets.

"What's important for us is the talent in Maxxium, and making sure that the best that we have out of Maxxium is part of our go-forward solution," said Flocco.