Nicolson to take over as AG Barr chairman

Brewing industry veteran John Nicolson is to take the helm of Irn-Bru maker AG Barr, which today told investors that its sales were fizzing ahead of the wider market.

Barr said total revenues grew 5.2 per cent in the 15 weeks to 11 May

Nicolson, who retired as president of Heineken Americas in July, will become chairman of the Cumbernauld-based group at the end of December, when Ronnie Hanna is due to retire after five years in the role.

The change in leadership was unveiled as Barr, which also makes Rubicon and Tizer soft drinks, said total revenues grew 5.2 per cent in the 15 weeks to 11 May. That compares with value growth of 1.9 per cent and volume decline of 0.6 per cent for the overall soft drinks market.

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The group is eyeing a boost to sales through its sponsorship of the Commonwealth Games, which kick off in Glasgow on 23 July, and chief executive Roger White is keen to expand the firm’s presence in England and Wales, where it has just 2.5 per cent of the market, compared with a 22 per cent share in Scotland.

The group’s factory and warehouse complex in Milton Keynes became operational during 2013 and is seen as a key part of the strategy to grow sales south of the Border.

In a trading update to coincide with today’s annual meeting, Barr said: “Our core brands are responding well to increased marketing support and sustained consumer promotional investment, whilst our strategy of extending distribution continues to make good progress.”

However, it sounded a note of caution over the retail environment, which it said remains “volatile and as competitive as ever”, and it will face tough comparisons with last summer, when the heatwave lifted demand.

Barr, which pulled the plug on a merger with rival Britvic in July 2013, added: “Although it is early in the year and the comparative trading for last summer will be challenging, we remain confident in delivering our expectations for the balance of the year.”

Nicolson, pictured below, joined the firm’s board in January 2013 and is currently its senior independent director. A graduate of the University of Strathclyde, he began working in the beer industry in 1993, when he became executive director of Foster’s Courage business in London.

In 1995, S&N acquired Courage and Nicolson moved to Edinburgh to take up the role of group marketing director, before taking responsibility for China, India, Vietnam and the Baltic Beverage Holdings business. He became president of Heineken Americas in 2008, following S&N’s £7.8 billion acquisition by the Dutch brewer and Danish rival Carlsberg.

Barr admitted today that a paperwork blunder meant that a resolution to approve its final dividend had been left off the notice for its annual meeting. As a result, a second interim dividend of 8.19p a share will be paid on 6 June without having to be put to a vote.