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Pernod-Ricard became the world's #2 spirits and wine company behind Diageo in 2005, following completion of a takeover of larger rival Allied Domecq. It became bigger still three years later with the acquisition of Vin & Sprit, parent group to Absolut vodka and other brands. As a result, it now a keen challenger to Diageo worldwide, and the local leader in most major international markets except the US. Historically, alcoholic beverages formed only part of Pernod-Ricard's portfolio, which also stretched to fruit processing and general distribution. However the group took a decision in the late 1990s to focus on its core spirits business, virtually doubling in size as a result of the acquisition of part of the Seagram portfolio, and again with the purchase of Allied. Key brands behind Absolut include Ricard pastis, Ballantine's and Chivas whisky, Seagram's and Beefeater gin, Jacob's Creek Australian wines and Mumm and Perrier Jouet champagne. All non-alcoholic operations have been sold.
Who handles Pernod-Ricard's advertising? Click here for Agency Account Assignments for Pernod-Ricard. The group declared advertising & promotion costs of €1.72bn in ye 2018, comprising €662m in Asia, €533m in the Americas and €525m in Europe.
See also Alcoholic Beverages Sector index for other companies
Pernod-Ricard has arguably been one of the drinks industry's most astute companies in recent years, transforming itself from a diversified French manufacturer into an international giant clearly focused on the spirits and wine business. The resulting group is now a worthy rival to Diageo in the global market. Its North American presence was its weakest link for several years, but acquisitions such as Absolut have greatly enhanced its status there, and other purchases could well follow.
Pernod-Ricard's transformation from a regional company to an international giant has come as a result of three major acquisitions. The first was the capture of part of the Seagram portfolio in 2001. That elevated the company to a position as the #3 spirits and wine company worldwide, and a leader in several markets including France, Italy, Poland, Russia, India and China. However it remained weak in North America, ranking far behind rival companies. As a result, drinks industry commentators were quick to highlight the benefits of a merger of Pernod-Ricard with Allied Domecq to bolster the US business and create a stronger global rival to Diageo. That combination finally became a reality in July 2005 when Pernod agreed to acquire Allied for around $14bn. The majority of Allied's portfolio was absorbed by Pernod; some smaller brands were sold on to what is now Beam Suntory. The Allied Domecq deal significantly increased its business in several areas, not least North America (including Mexico) where it climbed four places to #2 (although it continued to rank #4 in the US market alone).
The third "big bang" was announced in April 2008, when Pernod-Ricard was named as the successful bidder for Vin & Sprit, the state-owned Swedish spirits group whose flagship brand was Absolut vodka. The addition of Absolut and other V&S brands elevated Pernod-Ricard to a joint #1 position alongside Diageo. It is the clear #1 outside the US, with leading positions in Continental Europe, Brazil, Japan, India and China. Within the US, though, Pernod-Ricard still sits behind its rivals, ranking #3 among spirits marketers by US volumes. Top-selling brands in the US by volume in 2016 were Absolut, Jameson, Seagram's Gin, Malibu and Kahlua. Jameson has been the star performer, with US volumes alone up by 35% in two years.
The group's portfolio is led by 14 strategic global spirits and champagne brands, which alone accounted for 63% of group sales in the year to 2016. The five main wine brands contributed a further 6% of revenues. Another 18 key local brands generated 19% of sales, and were in turn supported by a large collection of other products, either owned by the group or distributed under contract.
The biggest and most valuable of its global spirits brands is Absolut. In volume terms, it is followed by Ballantine's whisky, now the #2 scotch worldwide by volume, and #1 in Europe, with a especially strong following in continental Europe. Spain and France each account for around 1m cases. However higher priced stablemate Chivas Regal is bigger by value, and is now paired with Absolut as one of two "icon" brands. It is the top-selling super-premium whisky in Europe, and #2 globally. It has its own collection of variants. The main 12-year-old Scotch is partnered by longer-aged Chivas 18 and Chivas 25, limited edition specials such as Chivas Brothers' Blend. Chivas Royal Salute, sold mainly in Asia, is a strategic brand in its own right, selling around 200k cases a year. The company's long-established flagship and once-time top seller, Ricard pastis, has suffered several years of declining popularity. Sales are mostly in the French-speaking markets of Europe and Canada.
Havana Club super-premium rum is produced in a joint venture with the Cuban government. It is sold in all markets except, currently, the US, where Bacardi has laid claims to the name. The resumption of diplomatic and trading ties between the US and Cuba resulted in a victory for Pernod-Ricard over the brand name, and distribution in the US for the first time from 2016. Bacardi has continued to appeal against that decision, and it could fall victim to the more conservative tendencies of the new Trump administration.
The other strategic spirits are led by the world's best-selling Irish whiskey, Jameson, with around a third of its sales in the US. It has been the star performer within the wider portfolio, with sales rising by double digit percentages each year. Malibu is the #3 rum brand worldwide, also available in several flavoured variants such as mango, pineapple and passion fruit, as well as rum-tequila mix Malibu Red; Beefeater, the world's leading premium gin, sold in more than 100 countries, although its biggest market is Spain where it is the #1 white spirit, outselling the likes of Smirnoff and Bacardi; best-selling coffee liqueur Kahlua , also parent to a range of flavoured variants (vanilla, hazelnut, salted caramel etc) as well as RTD spin-offs including Kahlua Mudslide, Kahlua B52 and Kahlua & Milk; Martell cognac, which sells more than half its volumes in China; and The Glenlivet, the best-selling single malt in the US, and #2 worldwide.
Until summer 2008, Pernod-Ricard also handled global distribution of Stolichnaya vodka in all markets outside the CIS under license from Russian exporter SPI. It surrendered Stoli following completion of the Absolut purchase. Other disposals include US bourbon whisky Wild Turkey, sold in 2009 to Campari for a handsome $575m; and Tia Maria, sold the same year to Ilva Saronno of Italy for €125m.
There are also two strategic global champagne brands and five wines. Jacob's Creek is by far the biggest. Made in Australia and distributed in more than 60 countries, it is the #9 wine brand worldwide, as well as the #1 wine brand in Australia & New Zealand (and also China), and #3 in the UK. However volumes have been mercurial, with performance rising and falling from year to year. Units peaked at 6.85m cases in 2012, before falling back sharply to just 5.99m in calendar 2014 (Impact Databank). The figure for the year to 2016 bounced back to 6.2m cases. Some way behind comes New Zealand's best-selling wine Brancott Estate, which sold 2.5m cases in ye 2016. That brand changed its name towards the end of 2010 from Montana. It was already marketed as Brancott in North America to avoid confusion with the US state of the same name. Campo Viejo is the global leader among Spanish wines, with 2.5m cases in ye 2016 . Mumm and Perrier Jouet champagnes sold 690k and 290k cases respectively. It also controls various other wines, including California's Kenwood Vineyards, acquired in 2014 (500k cases in ye 2016), and Wyndham Estate wines in Australia . A collection of Argentinean brands and vineyards including Graffigna was sold in 2019 to VSPT of Chile.
The 18 constituents of the key local brands portfolio change from time to time. The single biggest seller is Royal Stag, a low-priced Indian whisky acquired as part of the Seagram portfolio. It is partnered by several other high-selling Indian whiskies including Imperial Blue and Blender's Pride.
Other key local brands include Seagram's Gin, which is its #2 brand by volumes in the US after Absolut and the top-selling gin; Wyborowa wodka in Poland and France (1.7m cases in 2016); Amaro Ramazzotti bitters in Germany (1.2m cases); Ruavieja brandy in Spain (610k cases); Clan Campbell Scotch (1.6m cases in 2016), Pastis 51 anise (1.0m cases) and Suze bitters in France; ArArAt brandy and Olmeca tequila (610k cases) in Russia; Wiser's whisky in Canada (830k cases); Passport whisky in Brazil (1.7m cases in 2016); Becherovka bitters in the Czech Republic (750k cases); 100 Pipers whisky in Asia (1.4m cases); Imperial whisky in Korea (380k cases); and Something Special whisky in Venezuela.
Pernod-Ricard controls a small portfolio of ready-to-drink FABs including Two Dogs alcoholic lemonade and Seagram's Coolers. It also handles third-party distribution of various brands including Sandeman's port and sherries, Kirin's Four Roses bourbon in the US, Margaritaville tequila, and Corby of Canada's Lamb's Navy Rum.
The group operates a highly decentralized structure, inherited largely from the original merger of Pernod and Ricard in the 1970s. Fierce competitors within France, the two pastis makers' management teams refused to work with one another, so were left for several years as separate organisations under shared ownership. The same model has been applied to subsequent purchases, with different key brands entrusted to separate global brandowner businesses. As a result there are now six brandowner businesses which are responsible for manufacturing and global strategy. These are The Absolut Company, headquartered in Stockholm, which also has management of the Malibu and Kahlua brands, as well as Wyborowa and other vodkas; Chivas Brothers in London and Paisley responsible for Chivas Regal, Ballantine's, The Glenlivet and Beefeater; Irish Distillers in Dublin, which handles Jameson and a small collection of other spirits; Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouet in Paris; Havana Club International in Cuba; and Premium Wine Brands, with responsibility for key brands including Jacob's Creek, Brancott, Campo Viejo and Graffigna.
They are partnered by five regional units which manage local operations and sales. In France, there are Societe Pernod and Societe Ricard, still separate entities, who split local management of group brands between them. Ricard, for example, manages its namesake spirit as well as Absolut, Chivas, Jameson and Perrier-Jouet; while Pernod oversees Pastis 51, Ballantine's, Havana Club and Mumm. The rest of Europe is managed by Pernod Ricard Europe, while Pernod Ricard Americas and Pernod Ricard Asia oversee the rest of the world.
Group net revenues (excluding tax and excise) peaked in the year to June 2013 at €8.58bn, before slipping back on currency fluctuations for ye 2014 to €7.95bn (the lowest level since 2011). On an organic basis, revenues were virtually unchanged.
There was a rebound in the currency effect in the year to 2015, causing a reported 8% increase (2% organic) to €8.56bn. Net profit slumped 14% to €880m - the lowest result for many years - as a result of a €650m impairment charge against Absolut, whose performance was flat over the year, and down by 5% in its key market of the US.
Revenues for ye 2016 edged up by 1% to €8.68bn. The organic increase excluding currencies was 2%. Net profit soared by 43% to €1.24bn, but the previous year had been dented by that huge impairment against Absolut.
Performance for the year to 2017 was significantly stronger, with revenues up 4% (on both a reported and organic basis) to a best-ever €9.01bn. Net profit rose 13% to €1.39bn. Europe accounted for 31% of sales in ye 2017 (€2.78bn), with France the biggest single market by some degree. The Americas added 30% of the total (or €2.66bn). In dollar terms, the US alone accounted for sales of $1.8bn, with Canada bringing the total figure for North America to $2bn. A significant cost remains the interest payable on the group's sizeable total debt of €12bn (and net debt of €7.9bn). Financial expense during the year was €376m.
Revenues for ye 2018 dipped slightly to €8.99bn as a result of currency headwinds, but the group claimed an organic lift of 6.0%. The best overall performance came from Jameson and Martell, both up 14%. Absolut managed 2% globally as further declines in the US were offset by 6% growth elsewhere. The group's weakest major brand was Ricard, sales of which slipped by a further 6%. Net profit rose 13% to €1.58bn.
Rather coyly, the group doesn't declare total volumes of cases sold, only a breakdown of its leading brands, a fact which makes a direct comparison with Diageo difficult.
Patrick Ricard, son of co-founder Paul Ricard, led the group's dramatic expansion as CEO for 30 years before moving up to chairman in 2008. He held that position until his untimely death from a heart attack in August 2012 at the age of just 67. His nephew Alexandre Ricard, previously managing director of the group's global distribution network, was promoted at that time to COO and deputy CEO. Patrick Ricard's sister Daniele Ricard was appointed as chairman after his death; his son Paul-Charles Ricard is also a director. Non-family member Pierre Pringuet was CEO from 2008 until his retirement in Feb 2015, at which point Alexandre Ricard was appointed to both top roles as chairman & chief executive. The Pernod and Ricard families still own around 14% of the business between them.
Aniseed-based beverages were widely used in ancient times, usually for medicinal purposes. The ancient Greeks named this concoction "absinthin", meaning the "drink which is impossible to drink", because it was so bitter. Later the recipe for absinthe fell out of use and it was largely forgotten until the 18th century. However a classics-loving French doctor, Pierre Ordinaire, developed his own secret recipe during the late 18th century. In 1787, this formula passed into the hands of one Major Dubied, who built the first absinthe distillery in Switzerland. His son-in-law, Henri-Louis Pernod, built a second distillery to market the same drink in France from 1805.
Absinthe now became hugely popular, mainly because of its high alcohol content and low price. But as its fame and popularity spread during the 19th century, its reputation became increasingly tarnished, associated with bohemianism and public drunkenness. In 1915 the French government banned the manufacture and retail of absinthe for the duration of World War I; however it was reintroduced in 1920; and a number of companies and individuals developed their own variations on aniseed-flavoured drinks.
One such was the pastis recipe invented in 1932 by Marseilles artist Paul Ricard. Having become very successful in its home town, Ricard was introduced nationally in France during the second half of that decade. The company went public in 1962, and acquired a second brand, the cognac Bisquit, in 1967. Pernod was also enjoying considerable success in France, and in 1975, the two companies, already the country's two biggest manufacturers of pastis, merged to form Pernod-Ricard. (Known as Pastis 51 in France, Pernod's anise was introduced in other markets under the family's own name).
The combined business also housed a number of other businesses accumulated over the years including whisky distillers House of Campbell and fruit juice manufacturer JFA Pampryl. A year later Pernod-Ricard strengthened its hand further, acquiring the Dubonnet-Cinzano company. Further acquisitions during the 1980s included America's Austin Nichols, the manufacturer of Wild Turkey bourbon; French soft drink Orangina; Italian bitters company Ramazzotti; Ireland's main whiskey producer Irish Distillers; and Australian wine producer Wyndham Estate. At the same time the group accumulated a number of non-beverage businesses. In 1982, Pernod-Ricard acquired SIAS MPA, the world's biggest fruit processing business, followed by wholesale food and tobacco distributor BWG in 1988.
In 1993 the company formed a joint venture with Cuban producer Cubaron to resurrect the famed Havana Club rum marque (leading to a still-bitter skirmish with Bacardi, which claims US rights to the name). Other purchases included Siberian vodka Altai and Spain's Larios, the #1 gin brand in continental Europe. In 1997 the group became the major shareholder in bitters producer Jan Becher, when it was privatised by the Czech government. Two years later Pernod-Ricard acquired international rights to Polish vodka Wyborowa from the Polish government. Both companies were acquired outright in 2001. However the biggest purchase that year was the capture of a substantial chunk of the Seagram portfolio for around $3.2bn. Pernod-Ricard acquired a large portfolio of other drinks including Chivas Regal, The Glenlivet, Martell Cognac, Seagram's Gin and Seagram's Vodka (later sold). Sandeman's port and sherries were sold on to Sogrape, but the company retained distribution rights. Allied Domecq was acquired in 2005, with financial backing from Fortune Brands which took over some of the smaller brands. (A rival bid was assembled by Constellation Brands and Brown-Forman but collapsed because of a disagreement over terms and pricing).
During the 1990s, the group took a strategic decision to focus on its high-profit-margin alcoholic beverages, and gradually began disposing of its various other operations, mostly relating to fruit processing and fruit-juice based soft drinks. After years of unsuccessful negotiations with Coca-Cola, repeatedly blocked by regulators, Orangina-Pampryl soft drinks and Yoo-Hoo yogurt drinks brand were sold in several markets to Cadbury Schweppes in 2001. (The remaining territories including the UK were sold to Cadbury in 2004). The group also sold its controlling stake in Italian foods manufacturer Italcanditi to its partners Goffi Group. In 2002 fruit processor SIAS MPA was sold to investment group Butler Capital Partners for €170m.
Last full revision 5th April 2017
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