just the decade - The stories that defined the 2000s
As the decade draws to a close and just-drinks reflects on its first ten years of publication, our editorial team picks the ten stories that defined the noughties for the drinks industry and shaped our editorial coverage as we grew from 600 readers a month to 100,000.
10: Paul Walsh appointed CEO of Diageo
Some doubted that a man with limited experience of the spirits industry would succeed John McGrath as CEO of the world's biggest wine and spirit group in 2000 - Stuart Fletcher was tipped in these pages in July 2000. But Paul Walsh, the former Co-op trainee accountant, is now one of the longest serving FTSE 100 CEOs. Walsh has shown himself to be a calculated risk taker - he pulled off the hugely complex Seagram acquisition within a year of taking the reins; a tough negotiator - he refused to back down under intense pressure over Scottish job cuts this year; and a canny strategist - his vision of Diageo as a marketing-led drinks powerhouse, focussed on a core of highly profitable brands is the envy of the industry.
On a wider level, he has become a highly recognisable and influential spokesperson for the industry who has defended it from increasingly hostile opponents with his assured and calm Lancastrian tones.
9: Rise and fall of the Australia wine industry
Few could argue with the premise that the collective success of Australia's wine businesses transformed the global drinks industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Its simple varietal labelling and emphasis on fruit-driven, value-for-money brands revolutionised wine marketing - particularly in the UK and US, where wine sales took off as a result.
The globe's major drinks companies fell over themselves to get in on the action and Australian wine companies saw themselves being sold off at ever more preposterous multiples.
The country's fall was all the more spectacular then for its rapid and seemingly unstoppable rise. Consolidating retailers grew more powerful, wine sales slowed and an unrealistic planting programme led to a huge wine glut. Stocks were written off, CEOs fired and companies went under. The ramifications are still being felt now in the boardrooms around the world as the likes of Fosters or Constellation will testify.
8: The battle for CEO-ship of Coca-Cola
The Coca-Cola Co was plunged into a power vacuum in early 2004 when CEO Douglas Daft shocked the soft drinks world by quitting a business already at a nadir in its recent history.
It was assumed by most that Coca-Cola would be quick to appoint Steven Heyer, second in command and heir apparent. But the hunt for the next CEO quickly became one of the most eagerly followed corporate dramas of the decade. Heyer was deemed too abrasive by key figures within Coke and, after weeks of intrigue, the white smoke finally rose from Coke Towers with news that Neville Isdell a three-years' retired Coca-Cola veteran had been voted in.
Isdell had been with the company for 30 years before leaving in 1998 having failed to be named as Doug Ivester's successor for the top job. The choice of Isdell, who came out of retirement at the age of 60 to take on one of the highest profile corporate captaincies in the world, rather than someone younger or someone from beyond the Coca-Cola universe, raised a number eyebrows, not least within the company itself, which suffered another round of high profile resignations.
Isdell faced a company in crisis. Morale at the soft drinks company was at a low, partly because his predecessor's cost-cutting policy had left the group desperately short of talent below the main board and short on innovation.
For all the concerns, by the time Isdell stepped down in July 2008, his tenure was deemed a success. Rejuvenated beverage sales and profits across the world, improved bottler relations and the arrival of new talent to replace that which had been lost during a difficult time in the company's history could all be added to the score card. But perhaps, given the past, his greatest triumph was to ensure a smooth handover to current boss Muhtar Kent, epitomising a new confidence at the Atlanta-based group.
PepsiCo may have triggered a seismic shift on the US soft drinks market by this year securing a deal to take full control of its major bottlers in North America, Pepsi Bottling Group (PBG) and PepsiAmericas. The deal draws the curtain on a decade of PBG operating independently and breaks with the traditional bottler-producer industry model.
PepsiCo believes an integrated system will be essential to generate satisfactory profits in a North American soft drinks market that has faced difficulties over the last ten years and no longer holds the same kind of volume growth prospects as the likes of China and India. PepsiCo's Americas Beverages division reported sales down 7%, volume sales down 6% and operating profits down 5% for the third quarter of 2009.
The US soft drinks market, in particular, is vastly more varied in terms of products than it was a decade ago. "The fully integrated beverage business will enable us to bring innovative products and packages to market faster, streamline our manufacturing and distribution systems and react more quickly to changes in the marketplace, much like we do with our food business," said PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi.
At one stage, it looked as if the deal might not happen. Fighting talk from the bottlers forced PepsiCo onto the backfoot, but behind-the-scenes talks eventually saw the firm raise its offer price from US$6bn to $7.8bn. If PepsiCo makes the new format work, all eyes will be on Coca-Cola and Coca-Cola Enterprises.
6: The arrival of UB Group
India's somewhat chaotic climb up the world's socio-economic ladder has hoisted with it a new treasure trove of potential consumers. And so the last decade has been the one in which India's homegrown United Breweries has made its name known on the international drinks scene.
Founded in 1915 by a Scotsman in India, United Breweries today lays claim to almost 50% of India's still fledgling beer market, having used its Kingfisher beer brand to catapult itself to the top of the industry tree over the last five years. Sister group United Spirits controls around 60% of India's promising spirits market, largely via a plethora of Indian whisky brands.
Both are part of the UB Group, which also dabbles in planes and biotechnology and is owned by the enigmatic and flamboyant billionaire Dr Vijay Mallya. Nicknamed the Indian Richard Branson, Mallya and his team have carved out a veritable drinks empire in India.
UB Group's ascent has been noted by the big drinks players. Heineken this year secured a stake in United Breweries previously owned by Scottish & Newcastle. United Spirits held protracted talks with Diageo over a stake sale, although this has come to nothing for the time being. The group has also boldly planted its flag in the heart of Scotch whisky after acquiring Whyte & Mackay for US$1.18bn in 2007.
While many multinational drinks companies have faced sales declines throughout 2009, UB Group has continued to progress. In the half-year to the end of September 2009, United Breweries reported sales up to INR23.36bn (US$500m), ahead of the INR19.27bn in the same period of 2008. United Spirits sales rose to INR9.77bn from INR8.48bn last year.
5: PepsiCo buys Quaker
Described at the time by one leading US beverage analyst as "one of the most positive acquisitions I have ever seen", Pepsi's $13.4bn deal with Quaker in 2000 instantly gave it number one status in the US sports drinks market. But it also proved to be one of the most important acquisitions in the history of the soft drinks industry, changing forever the way the two behemoths PepsiCo and Coca-Cola eyed future growth.
The word 'Pepsi' was still synonymous with cola, but its carbonated beverages were no longer the company's only cash cow and certainly not what drove beverage growth. Diversification became the order of the day and the Quaker deal sparked a decade of acquisitions by the big two to bolster their non-carbonated portfolio.
The deal also marked the beginning of one of the most successful periods in PepsiCo's history, where it out-manoeuvred its red rival whilst transforming itself into the world's largest snack food company.
4: Interbrew to AB Inbev
It would have taken a brave man to predict in 2003 that the Belgian, family-owned brewer Interbrew would be the company to launch a bold and ultimately successful takeover bid for the world's then-biggest beer producer, Anheuser-Busch. However, from relatively humble beginnings at the start of the decade Interbrew, with only Stella Artois to its name as anything approaching a global brand, has grown into the world's largest brewer by quite some stretch.
Interbrew has been transformed along the way through a series of acquisitions, including two of the very largest of the era, AmBev and A-B. Whilst the deal with Latin America's AmBev in 2004 transformed the company culture, scale and ambitions, it was it's bid for A-B that really captured the industry's imagination. The grab for the US giant was that rare phenomenon, a business story that transcended the business pages to make front page news.
Speculation surrounding the future of Allied Domecq had been rife since Grand Met and Guinness merged in 1997 to form Diageo. It was only a matter of time, analysts argued, before the industry number two was sold or merged in order to bolster its prospects of competing with the new giant. And so it proved to be, although it took until April 2005 before those soothsayers were proved right.
The story dominated 2005, as for three months after its bid was unveiled, Pernod fought off rival bidders, faced nervous waits at the hands of competition regulators and negotiated with its competitors to help seal the deal. As the excitement cooled once the sale was inked, it became apparent this was a watershed in the history of the drinks industry as we waved goodbye to what was in many ways the last of an "old school" style drinks and leisure business.
And, whilst the joint acquisition of Seagram a few years earlier signalled its intentions, it was this deal that heralded the arrival of Pernod as a powerful and modern player in the new landscape, whose battles, brand by brand and market by market, with Diageo have coloured much of the spirits world since.
2: The economic crisis
The only macro-economic event to make our list, but the impact of the collapse of Lehmann Brothers, the credit crunch that caused it and the financial chaos that ensued will be felt long into the new decade. "Recession proof" was how the drinks industry was described by some commentators and participants as the crisis broke, but as the sheer scale of what faced businesses everywhere unfolded, these optimistic sentiments were soon downgraded.
Drinking habits the world over have changed, possibly for good, as the on-trade in particular took a hammering and consumers polarised into those that could still afford luxury end brands and bargain seekers. Whether discount buying has become engrained in the consumer psyche now remains to be seen.
1: The sale of Seagram
For two-and-a-half years after the merger of Grand Met and Guinness, the spirits industry seemed to focus on little else but consolidation. But in truth, whilst there was plenty of talk, there was really very little action. Then mid-way through 2000, drinks industry stalwart Seagram announced it was to throw in its lot with Vivendi and throw in the towel, after 76 years in the alcohol business. An extraordinary 18-month battle then ensued, with Allied Domecq the clear favourite to start.
The deal finally closed in December 2001, not with Allied as the victor, but instead an audacious partnership between Diageo and a relative newcomer to the table of drinks powerhouses, Pernod. In between, an extraordinary tale included Brown-Forman and Bacardi mounting a joint challenge, Allied ramping up its legal team to dispute ownership of Seagram's Captain Morgan brand, whilst the FTC threatened to bring the whole deal crashing down over fears Diageo would control too much of the US rum market.
In the end, the success with which Pernod and Diageo assimilated an under-performing Seagram portfolio and the newly acquired scale of the victors, kick-started a decade of consolidation that only a financial crisis and eventual lack of prey could end. Meanwhile, the failure of Allied's CEO Philip Bowman to clinch a deal (in the end Allied didn't even submit a bid, preferring instead a raft of bolt-on buys) sounded the death knell for the Bristol-based business and five years later it too fell to its French rival.
The sale, in many ways, was also the making of just-drinks. The daily way this story ebbed and flowed for over a year, with employees, investors, customers and suppliers desperate to stay ahead of one another, saw our readership rocket and - we hope - we have not looked back since.
Companies: PepsiCo, Diageo, UB Group, United Breweries, PBG, Coke, United Spirits, Interbrew, Pernod, Fosters, Constellation, Coca-Cola Co, PepsiAmericas, Coca-Cola Enterprises, Heineken, Whyte & Mackay, Guinness, Allied Domecq, Ricard, Brown-Forman, Bacardi, Captain Morgan
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