Suntory, based in Osaka, Japan, owns Morrison Bowmore, which distils, blends and bottles the spirit under contract in Scotland.
In addition, the company has been heavily acquisitive in the past six months, agreeing to buy soft drinks brands Ribena and Lucozade from GlaxoSmithKline in September and spirits firm Beam in January.
“The link on production with Suntory and their more aggressive approach on mergers and acquisitions suggest they would be favourites in my view,” the analyst told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
That said, the considerable resources it committed to its recent deals could hinder its ability to acquire Drambuie.
Rival bidders could include top global spirits players including Diageo, Pernod Ricard or Bacardi and possibly even smaller players such as Campari, he said. “You have got to put it in a portfolio.”
Private equity (PE) investors had to be included as potential bidders too, he added. “I wouldn’t rule out PE looking at it too given it is contract manufactured and they would probably see potential for selling it on to a major player later on.”
A report claiming Drambuie could be put up for sale surfaced first in the Financial Times last night, claiming the MacKinnons had retained the services of financial advisory group Rothschild to explore options. The article attributed a market value of £100M to the brand.
“I don’t know the financials but if the value is £100M the buyer would need conviction of its future potential to spend that on it,” said the analyst. “At that level it’s not just a bolt on deal given it’s just a brand you are buying in reality.”
Spiros Malandrakis, senior drinks analyst with market research group Euromonitor, said Drambuie was in the right category to generate strong interest from suitors.
History and authenticity
Its lengthy history and authenticity was “something the industry is really looking for”, he told FoodManufacture.co.uk.
As a flavoured whisky the brand had been ahead of the curve, he said, but was now fighting against increased competition as other major names tried to muscle in on the market.
“Drambuie was about 100 years ahead of its time. Now everyone is jumping on the flavoured whisky bandwagon, so recruiting products like Drambuie, which did it a long time ago – to that extent, the potential is there.”
Brands such as Jack Daniels and Jim Beam had increasingly played on their historical pedigree, while some Japanese players were seeking to make their mark in the area, he claimed. “There is a category now for where Drambuie used to be on its own.”
Any buyer would have to have the clout to make the most of Drambuie’s strengths while fending off such intensifying competition, he stressed.
The Drambuie Liqueur Company, established 100 years ago, claims Prince Charles Edward Stuart, popularly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, passed the original recipe for Drambuie to a John MacKinnon in 1746. According to the story, the recipe changed hands and was finally sold to a different MacKinnon family, which has produced the drink ever since.
Rothschild and Suntory were unavailable for comment at the time this article was published.