Campari, the Italian drinks producer, has said it is paying US$207.5m in cash to acquire a controlling stake in US-based Skyy Spirits, maker of the fast-growing super premium brand Skyy Vodka.

The deal sees Campari add another 50% of the company from Skyy founder Maurice Kanbar to the 8.9% it acquired in 1998.

Skyy and Campari formed a strategic alliance in 1999 to jointly distribute their products when Campari bought its original stake from Kanbar, who remains a minority shareholder in the company.

Campari said the latest deal "represents a fundamental step in Campari's international expansion strategy and further consolidates the group's presence in the premium segment of the spirits market."

It added that it believed the acquisition to be one of the most significant deals by an Italian group in the US market in recent years and "adds a strategic brand relevant to the portfolio while securing Campari a key position in the North American market."

Maroc P Perelli-Cippo, Campari's CEO said: "We consider this new acquisition a major growth opportunity for us in the US, which represents a crucial market in Campari's international expansion strategy."

Skyy is expected to sell 1.4m 9-litre cases in 2001. The estimated net sales revenue for the same period is US$112m, an increase of 18.4% over last year. Meanwhile, expected income before taxes and stock compensation to management is US$28m, a 37% increase over last year.