Suntory closing in on deal to buy GSK drinks brands: sources

Fri Sep 6, 2013 2:24am EDT
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By Anjuli Davies and Ben Hirschler

LONDON (Reuters) - Japan's Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd (2587.T: Quote) is in advanced talks to buy the Lucozade and Ribena brands from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L: Quote) for more than 1 billion pounds ($1.6 billion) in a deal that would pre-empt an auction of the iconic British drinks, two people close to the process said.

A deal could be announced in the next few days, one of the sources said on Thursday.

Britain's biggest drugmaker GSK announced plans in April to sell Lucozade and Ribena which are well-loved in Britain but lack global reach, especially in the emerging markets that are now becoming the focus of its consumer health business.

Suntory Beverage, Japan's second-largest drinks maker, was always seen as the most likely suitor for the brands because of its desire to grow its business through acquisitions to counter sluggish demand at home.

The Tokyo-listed company is also flush with cash after an initial public offering in June that raised $4 billion.

Suntory declined to say whether it was in talks with GSK, but acknowledged it was interested in the drugmaker's drinks business. Suntory bought the Orangina Schweppes drinks brand in 2009 for more than $3 billion.

"Looking to the future, we are considering a range of possibilities for growth including various strategic investments such as this (GSK) business, but nothing has been decided," the company said in a statement.

JP Morgan (JPM.N: Quote) and Greenhill (GHL.N: Quote) are acting for GSK on the disposal, the sources said. Officials at GSK declined to comment.   Continued...

Lucozade and Ribena drinks bottles are displayed on a shelf in a shop in London April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett