William Grant & Sons First Drinks unit has high hopes for CEDCs Zubrowka in the UK

William Grant & Sons' First Drinks unit has high hopes for CEDC's Zubrowka in the UK

The MD of William Grant & Sons' First Drinks division has said he is not concerned about the financial travails facing Central European Distribution Corp (CEDC), ahead of a distribution tie-up between the two in the UK.

Earlier today (30 January), Grant's UK unit, First Drinks, announced that it will distribute CEDC's Green Mark, Kauffman and Zubrowka brands in the UK. CEDC, which is struggling with around EUR880m (US$1.15bn) of debt, has seen Russian Standard take a 9.9% stake. Russian Standard, which, until recently, saw First Drinks distribute its namesake vodka in the UK, is looking to raise its holding by a further 19.9%.

Speaking exclusively to just-drinks today, Chris Mason, the MD of First Drinks, said that CEDC's predicament was not an issue.

“We're aware of the situation,” Mason said. “Their business is still healthy internationally, they're looking to refinance their business, and it's an endorsement of their business that high-profile international figures like (Russian Standard's founder) Roustam Tariko want to invest in them.

“I don't think we are concerned at all,” he continued. “The brands are in a good place. Zubrowka is a tremendous brand internationally. We're pretty confident that it will have no bearing on our business in the UK.”

When asked what plans First Drinks has for Zubrowka, CEDC's flagship export brand, Mason said: “Zubrowka is very much an on-trade brand at present: We'd like to continue with that and give it a wider platform in the off-trade. I can see Zubrowka being a really exciting premium brand.

“We think it fits really well alongside brands like (William Grants') Monkey Shoulder, Hendrick's and Sailor Jerry. I'd like to double its footprint over the next five years, in terms of gaining distribution in the right places, keeping it premium and doing a Hendrick's on it.”

Mason also confirmed that the tie-up with CEDC in the UK will run for five years.