Drinks maker Britvic agrees merger with A.G. Barr

LONDON Wed Nov 14, 2012 5:36pm GMT

Bottles of soft drinks made by drinks company Britvic sit on a conveyor belt at Britvic's bottling plant in London March 25, 2009. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Bottles of soft drinks made by drinks company Britvic sit on a conveyor belt at Britvic's bottling plant in London March 25, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Luke MacGregor

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LONDON (Reuters) - Britvic has agreed the terms of a 1.4 billion pound ($2.2 billion) merger with smaller rival A.G. Barr, which should bring an end to a turbulent three years for the British drinks maker.

Britvic, which makes and sells PepsiCo brands such as Pepsi and 7UP in Britain, was hit this summer by poor weather and a recall of its children's drink Fruit Shoot over faulty caps. Quinns, the Irish drinks wholesaler it acquired in 2011, has also performed below market expectations.

The all-share deal, which creates one of the biggest soft drinks companies in Europe, will afford Britvic some stability after a difficult few years, said Canaccord Genuity analyst Wayne Brown.

"Both players have a huge amount to gain, but in the short to medium term, I think the Britvic shareholders should be breathing a sigh of relief that a white knight has come around the corner," he said.

Shares in Britvic climbed 5.4 percent to 388 pence at 2.40 p.m. British time, having fallen from a peak of 518 pence in July 2010. Shares in A.G. Barr, the partly family-owned Scottish maker of Irn Bru, were up nearly 4 percent.

A.G. Barr shareholders will own 37 percent of the enlarged group, while investors in Britvic will own the rest - a split in line with the relative market values of the two companies.

Highly rated A.G. Barr CEO Roger White will lead the group, which is expected to achieve annual sales of 1.5 billion pounds.

DEAL DRIVERS

Rothschild, which works as financial adviser to A.G. Barr, has been working for five years on different ways to bring the companies together.

One driver behind the deal is a forecast for 40 million pounds of synergies. Cost savings, including up to 500 job cuts, are expected to account for 35 million pounds of the total. The remainder would come from additional revenue.

The Scottish business stands to benefit from Britvic's larger distribution network and relationship with big retailers, while A.G. Barr has a stronger presence in independent markets such as newsagents. The new group will also have increased buying power in new markets.

Britvic has offered its shareholders a special dividend of 10p a share, conditional on the merger completing.

"That should act as a bit of a sweetener for Britvic shareholders, some of whom have been complaining that they weren't happy with the ratio," said Canaccord Genuity's Brown.

Britvic now has to persuade 75 percent of its shareholders to vote for the deal, while A.G. Barr needs 50 percent approval. The merger also has to be signed off by competition regulators.

A.G. Barr CEO White said that he sees the deal completing by early 2013.

(Editing by Rosalba O'Brien and David Goodman)

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