News Comment: Hine Under the Hammer

What about the US-focused groups? Brown-Forman seems more at home with American brown spirits, while Bacardi seems an unlikely destination with Baron Otard in its stable and Beam is surely content with Courvoisier. 

Gruppo Campari, though Cognac-less, isn’t big on super-premium brown spirits. The group has certainly set its stall out to internationalise of late, but whether the coffers were cleaned out by last year’s Appleton acquisition is another question entirely. When asked about Hine, a spokesperson said it was “unwilling to comment on speculation”.

Distell can likely be ruled out after its £160m splurge on another of CL World Brands' assets, Burn Stewart Distillers last month. The deal – which included the 500,000-case Scottish Leader, a category leader in Taiwan, and Black Bottle (40,000 cases) and the single malts Bunnahabhain, Deanston, Tobermory and Ledaig – broadens the group’s portfolio in the growing Scotch market of South Africa. With South African brandy the group’s bread and butter, Cognac is unlikely to be on the agenda. 

The field seems to be narrowing, so what about Cunnington’s suggestions of Edrington and William Grant & Sons? “A Cognac brand would greatly complement their single malt portfolios,” he says. “Premium Scotch and Cognac go together nicely.” Certainly if William Grant took the reins, Pol Roger – which grew the brand by 35% last year – would have to be replaced by First Drinks as UK agent.

China is Hine’s third largest market, behind the UK and US, so a suitor could be watching on from the Far East. Cunnington agrees: “Other possible outside bets could be the Asian players Suntory or Thai Bev, both of which have a presence in Scotch, and this small-scale acquisition is something they could afford and would interest them.”

With XO and above Cognac growth at 23% (year ending July 2012) and Cognac category sales increasing 13% by value in the same period, whichever group signs the cheque for Hine, it won’t take too long to recoup the outlay