As I’ve battled procrastination and sloth to begin posting again in these pages, I’ve considered how the adult beverage world has evolved since last I posted. There’s a lot of new products to talk about, and many of them at our end of the market spectrum: cheap-ish stuff. Evolution is, by definition, incremental and gradual. But within the last week, news from the beverage industry was stunning enough to awaken me from my self-induced posting coma.
Beam, Inc., the corporate parent of namesake Jim Beam, agreed to be bought by a Japanese company. While this doesn’t directly affect the subject of our focus-affordable wine-it is nonetheless interesting enough to warrant exploration.
Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon seems as American as Uncle Sam, or apple pie, or, well, Kentucky (though Beam, Inc. is based in Illinois). Beam is also the parent of Makers Mark, Pinnacle, Courvoisier, Skinny Girl and several other spirits side of the The Store giants. The suitor is Suntory, a privately held brewer and spirits maker. They are behind Japanese beer brands Kirin and Sapporo, single malt whisky Yamazaki, and a broad portfolio of other beverages, including non-alcoholic grocery store soft drinks and teas. The deal is valued at $16 billion, and will catapult the combined company into 3rd place among global spirits brands.
While this deal certainly ranks far higher up the Richter scale of beverage industry shakeups, it is the latest in a long pattern of consolidation and realignment within the space. Wine labels get swallowed by corporate behemoths (Mondavi, Clos du Bois, Fetzer) and the shelves become more and more dominated by a handful of powerhouses. And the presence of Asian companies on those shelves is sure to increase. As the globe shrinks, and borders blur, it is only a matter of time before the giant and thirsty Chinese wine market and their suppliers become intertwined with the American wine industry. For those of us trawling the Cheapskate end of the market, that’s probably OK.