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News Briefs for August 24, 2011

August 24, 2011

•Guinness Black Lager will be making its debut across the U.S. market in September. The new offering—which was tested successfully in San Diego and Chicago—will launch both on- and off-premise, priced around $8.49 a six-pack. The black lager, described as light and crisp with a subtle hint of malt and a slight hop finish, is meant be enjoyed right from the bottle, unlike Guinness stout. Speaking to Shanken News Daily in May regarding the upcoming rollout, Diageo NA CMO Peter McDonough said, “Guinness currently sells more in markets like Nigeria, for example, than North America. The fact that the U.S. is only the world’s fourth-largest market for Guinness means there’s something I’m not doing right. Americans are lager drinkers, and Guinness Stout can be challenging for some people to embrace. Guinness Black Lager will appeal to the tastes of American beer drinkers.”

•China’s Department of Investment Fund Supervision has reportedly approved the country’s first private fine wine investment fund. Known as the Dinghong Fund, the entity was co-founded by Pacific Asset Management money manager Ling Zhijun and Zhang Yanzhi, who leads Bordeaux’s Jean-Pierre Moueix’s Chinese operations, according to the Financial Times. It expects to raise CNY200 million by the end of September, ultimately targeting CNY1 billion ($156m), which it will invest in Bordeaux and Burgundy vintages. Dinghong aims to deliver annual returns of approximately 15% to investors. The fifth-largest wine market in the world, China’s wine sector delivered growth of 5.6% last year, to more than 164 million cases, according to Impact Databank. French wines account for around half of China’s import segment.

•The fight over privatizing Washington state’s liquor sales appears to be heating up again this year, with money pouring in on both sides of the debate. Initiative I-1183, which follows a similar initiative that failed in 2010, would see the state sell off its retail and warehousing operations and allow private retailers such as Costco, a key backer of the initiative, to perform those functions. According to local reports, Costco has so far donated around $2.2 million in cash and in-kind contributions to the campaign backing I-1183, which has raised a total of $2.4 million. Safeway is another supporter. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) are the main donors to the effort against I-1183, led by a group called Protect Our Communities. The WSWA has donated nearly $3.7 million to the group, representing over 90% of its funds raised to date. Recent polls show voters evenly divided on the initiative.

•Heineken says an uncertain economic environment and weak consumer spending led to a 2% decrease in the overall U.S. beer market in the half-year ended June 30. Heineken’s own U.S. depletions were down 4% during the period, its fiscal first-half, as its name brand’s shipments declined. Dos Equis, however, posted strong U.S. volume growth on “increased outlet distribution,” in the words of the company. Heineken’s Americas business in total saw volume grow 0.4% on an organic basis, matching its revenue increase. Globally, Heineken’s beer volume rose 4.2% organically to 104.1 million hectoliters, leading to a revenue increase of 3.3% to €8.4 billion ($12.1b). Global net profits also rose on an organic basis, up 5.7% organically to €694 million ($999m).

•Diageo has closed two key emerging market deals. Through a public offer, it has acquired an additional 5.07% stake in Vietnam’s Halico for around £6.4 million ($10.5m), increasing its stake in the local spirits producer to approximately 30%. The drinks giant first invested in Halico—54%-owned by Hanoi Beverage Co.—last January, buying a 23.6% stake from VinaCapital Vietnam Opportunity Fund Ltd. for £33 million ($52m). Concurrently, Diageo has completed its $2.1 billion acquisition of Turkey’s Mey Içki, first announced in February. Mey Içki is Turkey’s largest spirits maker and distributor, controlling roughly 70% of its spirits market. Diageo Asia-Pacific president Gilbert Ghostine recently predicted emerging markets would contribute half of all company revenue within the next five years.

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