Hine cellarmaster Eric Forget

Cognac future rapped up

05 April, 2023

One sector of popular music seems fixated on the spirit and is helping introduce new consumers to the sector. but it’s not all plain sailing.

In October of last year, reports emerged that Shawn Carter, known professionally as Jay-Z, was suing Bacardi for full financial clarity on how much D’Ussé, the cognac brand that the two parties co-own, has made.

The disagreement stemmed from Carter’s demand for a buyout from Bacardi over concerns that a company subsidiary was mismanaging the brand by failing to prepare for a predicted surge in demand.

After being offered half a billion for his share and having his $1.5bn counteroffer for Bacardi’s stake rejected, the rapper took things to court. In a separate lawsuit, Carter also accused Bacardi of intentionally mismanaging the brand to lower its value, which Carter placed at $3bn, driving down the buyout price.

The lawsuit resulted in the two factions reaching an agreement where Bacardi would take over the majority shareholding of the brand while Carter will continue to retain a “significant ownership stake” through his company SC Liquor. While the terms of the deal haven’t been made public, Bacardi now owns more than 75% of the brand that launched in 2012, and Carter could be as much as $750m richer.

It’s a deal that vaguely mirrors the Diageo purchase of Casamigos – a relative newcomer to an established category, founded by a high-profile public figure, bought by a global drinks giant, even the amount of money purportedly changing hands is the same. In 2021, Casamigos sold 2.2 million cases, according to the Drinks International Millionaires’ Club, firmly cementing the brand among the category’s volume giants. It’s a story Bacardi must have followed closely.

The deal is the most publicised development in a category that is experiencing a lot of movement outside of the traditional big four houses of Hennessy, Rémy Martin, Martell and Courvoisier.

In the UK, Hine struck a new distribution partnership with Berry Bros. & Rudd, and just last month, Camus Cognac joined the Speciality Brands portfolio. Cognac Hardy recently announced a deal that will see the brand imported and distributed in the US through Spiribam.

“The lion’s share of the business is dominated by four or five brands, and the business is also well diversified by a variety of occasions and how the consumer enjoys the product,” says Ben Jones, managing director of Spiribam North America. “This means for us there is a lot of opportunity to see the category – as well as an influential brand – flourish.

“[Entering the category with Hardy] was an easy decision to make because we felt it was not too far of a reach from how we go to market with the rest of our rum portfolio.”

But despite this flurry of activity, the category experienced a decline in 2022. The cognac trade body, BNIC, reported a 4.8% decrease in volume compared with the previous year, in no small part the result of the extended Covid closures in China, the category’s second-largest volume market and most valuable market according to the IWSR. Now with China reopened, cognac could be set to blow.

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