The Swedish government said yesterday that it plans to sell six state-owned companies, including Vin & Spirit, the parent company to several brands including Absolut -- the world's fifth-largest spirit brand -- and Cruzan Rum.
'Will take time'
"State ownership should only exist if there is a motive for it," Enterprise and Energy Minister Maud Olofsson said. "That's why we have chosen these six companies, because we don't think there is such a motive. ... We have started the process today, but it will take time."
The sale of V&S, valued by some Wall Street analysts at more than $4 billion, has been a hot topic ever since a center-right coalition took control of the Swedish government earlier this year.
Fortune Brands' Beam Wine & Spirits has been frequently mentioned as the most likely suitor for V&S, because it lacks a major vodka brand of its own and also because it already imports and distributes Absolut in the U.S. through a joint venture with V&S.
Then there's A-B
Another major marketer frequently linked to V&S is No. 1 U.S. brewer Anheuser-Busch Cos., which has frequently signaled its desire to enter a premium-spirits market growing much faster than the domestic-beer business it dominates. Recent communications between A-B executives and distributors have hinted at an imminent move into the space, although it remains unclear whether it would be in the form of a major acquisition or through the development of smaller brands such as A&B's recently introduced Jekyll & Hyde spirits.
Anheuser-Busch declined to comment; a spokeswoman for Beam was not immediately available for comment.