The New York Times headline this morning sums up the continuing globalization of the alcoholic-beverage industry as neatly and powerfully as a Jim Beam in a double shot glass at 3 a.m.: “My Old Osaka Home: Suntory of Japan to Buy Maker of Jim Beam.”
The $13.6 billion cash deal will “catapult family-owned Suntory from No. 15 in global liquor dollar sales to No. 3, behind only U.K.-based Diageo PLC and France's Pernod Ricard SA, according to alcohol industry tracker IWSR,” Mike Esterl, Hiroyuki Kachi, and Peter Evans report in the Wall Street Journal. Beam, based in Deerfield, Ill., currently is No. 4 globally.”
It will give Suntory about 11% of the U.S, market, Bill Toland reports in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,” up from about 1%. Other brands in the Beam portfolio include Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek bourbons, Teacher's and Laphroaig Scotch whiskeys, Canadian club whiskey, Courvoisier cognac, Sauza tequila and Pinnacle vodka. The combined company will have annual sales of about $4.3 billion.
“Whiskey is the driver of the deal,” Toland writes. The acquisition comes at a time when the taste for bourbon — a type of American whiskey made primarily of corn and historically distilled in Kentucky — continues to grow domestically and abroad.”
“U.S. sales volume of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey have grown 13.2% in the five years to 2012, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Super-premium brands have grown nearly 80% over the same period,” report Reuters’ Martinne Geller and Olivia Oran.
Although the folks at Suntory have global plans for the bourbon and its sibling, the premium Maker’s Mark bourbon, the key will be “to not let the brand stray one iota from its American roots,” Bruce Horovitz writes in USA Today. All indications are that they won’t — from both a management and a marketing point of view.
“We are particularly excited about the prospect of working more closely with Beam's excellent management and employees who will play an integral part in the growth of the business,” Suntory said in its statement announcing the deal.
“Suntory — which makes Yamazaki whiskey and Premium Malt's beer — totally gets American shtick. It was, after all, among the earliest major Asian marketers to cozy-up to American celebrities to sell stuff in Japan,” Horovitz reports. “Way back in the ‘Rat Pack’ heyday of the early 1970s, no less than Sammy Davis Jr., showed up in ads for Suntory brands in Japan.” (Check out the burning cigarette in the ashtray as Davis scats with a Suntory Whiskey bottle in this 1974 archeological find.)
“The United States can still claim domestic ownership of big liquor makers, among them Brown-Forman and Buffalo Trace Distillery, but they are smaller,” Michael de la Merced, David Gelles and Hiroko Tabuchi report in the Times. “The world’s biggest beer producers, including Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller, are also multinational conglomerates. Domestic breweries, like Sam Adams, largely produce craft beers at a fraction of the volume of their huge rivals.”
Heaven Hill Distilleries, which bills itself as “America’s Largest Independent Family-Owned and Operated Distilled Spirits Company” distills Evan Williams and Elijah Craig bourbons and Christian Brothers Brandy. It also markets imported brands such as HPNOTIQ Liqueur and O'Mara's Irish Country Cream out of Bardstown, Nelson County, Kentucky.
In the 2003 film “Lost In Translation,” Bill Murray’s character went to Japan to film whiskey commercials with the tagline “For relaxing times, make it Suntory Time,” Forbes’ Christopher Helman reminds us in the lede of his piece about the family — “the second richest in Japan” — that counts the brand among its holdings.
The head of the family, and chairman of Suntory, is Nobutada Saji, 68, who, “inspired by company motto ‘Yatteminahare,’ translated as ‘Go for it,’ … has pushed Suntory into some big deals in recent years, including the $4 billion takeover of Orangina Schweppes Group in 2009 and the $600 million buy of Frucor Beverages in 2008, Helman reports.
Back in the U.S., Laura Braverman put together a fun “8 Things You Didn’t Know About Jim Beam” piece in Upstart Business Journal that includes the information that seventh-generation family member Fred Noe published a book about the family's history in 2012, recounting how his dad had him work in every aspect of the business before he was appointed to his master distiller role in 2007,” which he still is.
Frederick Booker Noe IV, known as Freddy and the great-great-grandson of company namesake Jim Beam himself, meanwhile, is just getting started in the business and tweets with the handle @beamgeneration8.
Cheers to Noe IV! Or should we say ganbatte!?