Brown-Forman is best-known internationally as the maker of that quintessential spirit of the American South, Jack Daniel's. Its portfolio also includes Finlandia vodka, El Jimador tequila and other spirits, as well as California's super-premium Sonoma-Cutrer wines. Until 2016 it was also the home of another Southern class, Southern Comfort. For many years the family-controlled group also operated another division marketing fine china, crystal and other luxury goods. It took the decision in 2005 to focus on the drinks business, and sold off all its china and dinnerware brands. It has an international distribution partnership in some countries with Bacardi. Its comparatively small size, and the global appeal of its lead brand, makes Brown-Forman a likely eventual target for a larger buyer, but only if the price is generous enough to sway its controlling shareholders, the Brown family.
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Adbrands Weekly Update 8th Jun 2017: Days after rebuffing an approach from Constellation Brands, US spirits group Brown-Forman reported weaker financials for the year to April, but claimed strong underlying growth, especially from its flagship Jack Daniel's brand. Combined volumes of that brand family topped 16m cases for the first time, up 4% overall. Tennessee Honey was the strongest performer with volumes up by 6%. However, group revenues slipped 3%, falling just below $3.0bn, partly as a result of exchange rates but also the sale of Southern Comfort just over a year ago. Without the sizeable one-off gain from that disposal, net income slumped by more than a third to $669m.
Adbrands Weekly Update 5th Jun 2017: US wine and beer group Constellation Brands was reported to have made an approach to acquire its spirits-centric rival Brown-Forman, owner of Jack Daniel's and other brands. A combination of the two companies would create a global giant with combined sales of around $11bn, overtaking Pernod-Ricard (with approx $10bn). However, Brown-Forman apparently rebuffed the offer saying it is not for sale. Most of the remaining potential takeover targets in the global drinks market are family controlled, making unsolicited acquisitions hard or even impossible to pull off.
Adbrands Weekly Update 9th Jun 2016: Currency fluctuations undercut annual results for Brown-Forman, maker of Jack Daniel's and other spirits. Revenues for the year to April slipped 2% to $4.0bn - at constant rates they would have risen 5% - but net income jumped by 56% to almost $1.1bn as a result of a $485m gain on the sale of Southern Comfort and Tuaca liqueurs. Jack Daniel's continues to deliver strong growth, helped by the steady rollout of its Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire liqueur variants. However, #2 brand Finlandia vodka struggled with sharp declines in Eastern Europe. There have been rumours that BF may be seeking a buyer for the brand.
Adbrands Weekly Update 21st Jan 2016: US drinks company Brown-Forman finally called it quits on whisky-based liqueur Southern Comfort, after several years of trying to rebuild sales, not least with an idiosyncratic marketing campaign from Wieden & Kennedy New York. It's passing the baton to fast-growing Sazerac, owners of the hugely successful cinnamon whisky Fireball, now America's #6 best-selling spirit. Sazerac is also buying B-F's Italian liqueur Tuaca for a combined price tag of $544m.
Adbrands Weekly Update 8th Oct 2015: According to a report from Reuters, family controlled drinks group Brown-Forman has appointed Goldman Sachs to advise on the potential sale of its storied Southern Comfort brand, as well as raspberry liqueur Chambord. Despite Wieden & Kennedy New York's well-regarded (and widely copied) advertising, Southern Comfort has continued to witness steady declines in sales. US sales have fallen by a quarter over the past decade, while Chambord's volumes have halved.
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Free for all users | see full profile for current activities: Towards the end of the 19th century, pharmaceutical salesman George Garvin Brown set out to produce a medicinal-standard whisky. The result, introduced in 1879, was Old Forester Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. To guarantee the quality of the finished product, he adopted what was then the highly unusual process of packaging his whisky in glass bottles, sealed before leaving the factory. Eventually, in 1890, he made his accountant George Forman a partner in the firm, although he later bought back Forman's share after the latter's death. Brown expanded the business, acquiring a couple of other distillers, and by the time of his own death in 1917, the business was well-established.
Control of the company then passed to his son Owsley Brown, whose first challenge was to deal with the imposition of Prohibition in the US in 1920. George Brown's original stated goal of producing medicinal-standard whisky now served the company well. Although most distillers were forced to shut down by Prohibition, Brown-Forman was one of the very few granted a licence to continue the manufacture of whisky "for medicinal purposes". Old Forester remained in legal production. In 1923, the company also acquired all the existing stock and plant of Early Times, another distiller. Ten years later, Prohibition was repealed and the whisky industry was back in business. As one of the few to have stuck it out, Brown-Forman was a key player in the new boom, and took the opportunity to go public in 1933.
Later, on the outbreak of World War II, the company was forced to turn over much of its plant to production of industrial alcohol. However CEO Owsley Brown felt certain that war would last no more than four years, and in 1942 he devoted his remaining facilities to the four-year ageing process for bourbon. As a result the company was one of the few with a full warehouse of sale-ready whisky when peace was declared, and Brown-Forman's brands cornered the market.
By the 1950s, Early Times had become the country's best-selling bourbon, and Brown-Forman began to acquire other brands. The most important of these, purchased in 1956, was the Jack Daniel's distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. During the 1960s, the company also acquired US rights to Bushmills whisky (later sold) and Pepe Lopez tequila, as well as marketing rights to American champagne Korbel and Italy's Bolla wines, followed by Canadian Mist in 1971. In 1979, the group acquired Southern Comfort, the distinctive liqueur invented almost 100 years earlier by New Orleans bartender MW Heron.
During the 1980s, Brown-Forman began to diversify, acquiring Lenox, a luxury dinnerware manufacturer first founded in 1889. The following decade, a separate wines division was formed to handle the group's growing portfolio of imported and Californian brands. A year later the group became the #5 wine producer in the US with the acquisition of Fetzer.
In 1996 the Brown-Forman expanded its portfolio with the purchase of US rights to Finlandia, later acquiring a controlling stake in the vodka's parent company from the Finnish government. Two years later it acquired a 20% stake in Scottish whiskey Glenmorangie (later sold), and teamed up with Bacardi to bid for the Seagram drinks portfolio in 2000, only to lose out to Diageo and Pernod-Ricard. In 2005, Brown-Forman joined forces with Constellation Brands and two private equity investors to launch a bid for British drinks group Allied Domecq, then under offer from Pernod-Ricard. That offer also later collapsed as a result of a disagreement with Allied over price and terms. See full profile for current activities
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