Britvic merger with A.G. Barr under threat

LONDON Wed Feb 13, 2013 10:19pm GMT

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

Bottles of R Whites lemonade, made by soft 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) - A merger between British soft drinks companies Britvic (BVIC.L) and A.G. Barr (BAG.L) hangs in the balance after the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) referred the deal to the Competition Commission.

The companies said that the 1.4 billion pound merger has now lapsed and they will make a joint announcement after conducting a combined review of the full decision by the OFT.

"We're in the long grass for at least nine months," Britvic Chairman Gerald Corbett told Reuters on Wednesday.

"We'll be going into that meeting with the perspective that the deal is a really good one for shareholders and has compelling industrial logic and strengthens us against the mighty Coca-Cola (KO.N) company."

The deal, which had been approved by shareholders, could create one of Europe's biggest drinks companies.

Britvic produces PepsiCo Inc (PEP.N) brands such as Pepsi, Mountain Dew Energy and 7UP in Britain and Ireland, as well as products such as Robinsons squash and Tango. A.G. Barr's most famous brand is Irn-Bru, dubbed Scotland's national drink.

However, the OFT drew attention to competition concerns over certain brands.

"Our investigation has identified competition concerns relating to this deal with respect to Barr's Irn-Bru and Orangina brands, which could lead to higher prices for consumers," Amelia Fletcher, the OFT's chief economist, said in a statement.

In a separate statement, Britvic announced the appointment of Simon Litherland as its chief executive with immediate effect and guided towards full-year earnings before interest and tax in the range of 125 million pounds to 131 million pounds.

A.G. Barr's CEO Roger White had been named to lead the combined group when Britvic agreed the terms of the deal in November.

(Reporting by Lorraine Turner and Neil Maidment; Editing by Sarah Young and David Goodman)

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