Suntory ‘to buy Lucozade and Ribena for £1bn’

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BRITAIN’S biggest drug maker could unveil a deal within days to sell its Lucozade and Ribena drinks brands for £1 billion to Suntory, the Japanese drinks giant that owns Morrison Bowmore Distillers (MBD).

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) put the labels up for sale in April as part of chief executive Sir Andrew Witty’s plan to sell non-core assets.

Two sources said that Suntory – which bought Orangina in 2009, having taken over Glasgow-based MBD in 1994 – was in “advanced talks” to buy the brands, avoiding the need for an auction.

Irn Bru-maker AG Barr refused to comment yesterday on whether it would table an offer for the labels. Previous reports have suggested that the Cumbernauld-based firm would team up with private equity players Blackstone and Lion Capital to mount a £1bn bid.

Speculation that AG Barr may try to buy the brands followed the collapse in July of its £1.9bn reverse takeover of Pepsi-bottler Britvic, which would have created Europe’s largest soft drinks group.

Investment banks Greenhill & Co and JP Morgan have been appointed by GSK to advise on the deal. GSK and JP Morgan both declined to comment yesterday.

Suntory is also in talks to buy a 26 per cent stake in Radico Khaitan, one of India’s biggest spirit distillers, according to investment bankers.

Pre-tax profits at MBD – which also owns the Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and McClelland’s single malt labels – jumped by 39 per cent to £8.5 million in 2012, according to accounts filed last month. Turnover rose by 12 per cent to £49.8m.