Beam Inc has made a strong case for its viability as a free-floating spirits company, but analysts continue to question how long the drinks industry's bigger fish allow the firm to continue.

Beam Inc's CEO and president, Matt Shattock, painted the Jim Beam Bourbon distiller as a perfect mix of scale and agility in front of analysts today (3 November). His comments came after the company impressed investors with solid rises in nine-month sales and profits.

Full-year diluted earnings per share, excluding one-time items, are expected to rise by between 8% and 9%, at the top end of Beam's guiance range, the company said. Shattock said that Beam's spirits sales are outpacing the industry in the US, although pricing remains subdued ahead of the key holiday selling season.

He said that the company, which directly controls 75% of its global sales force, has sufficient scale to be competitive but has the agility of a start-up, which "allows us to seize opportunties and leverage them into meaningful growth opportunities".

Over the first nine months of 2011, well-known brands such as Jim Beam, Maker's Mark and Courvoisier mixed with so-called rising stars such as Laphroaig, Skinnygirl and Effen to propel Beam to a 10% increase in net sales, to US$2bn.   

Shattock said that the group has seen "gradual continued premiumisation" in the US, is seeing strong growth in emerging markets and is "more than holding our own in Western Europe". The firm is set to temper its brand investment over the coming quarters, but said that it expects innovation to continue to contribute at least 25% of sales growth "going forward".

The firm cited strong brand investment as the reason for operating profits increasing more slowly than net sales. Operating profits rose by 3% to $399.5m, although net sales increased by 11% to $225.2m. In the third quarter, Beam's net sales rose by 10% to $707.3m, with operating profits up by 4% to $142.4m and net profits up by 13% to $83.4m.

Analysts were largely positive about Beam's first results statement as a standalone company. Morningstar analysts said that Beam is well positioned to drive further top-line growth and is generating good amounts of cash.

However, the spectre of Beam's dissolution at the hands of an acquiror still looms large. Neither Diageo nor Pernod Ricard, have stated publicly that they would like to acquire Beam, but a move involving one of those two - if not both - is seen as likely at some stage.

Morningstar analysts said: "While Beam's portfolio lacks the depth of larger rivals, we maintain our view that its strong presence in the U.S. bourbon category could make this firm a potential acquisition target."