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Wednesday, Aug 11, 2004

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Whisky major Inver House in deal with Vangal's firm

Boby Kurian

Bangalore , Aug. 10

THE big boy of the scotch whisky business is stepping into India.

Thailand's Pacific Spirit controlled Inver House, the world's largest supplier of bulk scotch and among the top 10 distilleries, has entered into a definite agreement with Mason & Summers Alcobev Ltd, formerly Katra Liquor, a Bangalore-based start-up spirits company promoted by Mr Ramesh Vangal.

Informed sources said a deal has been inked with Pacific Spirit that will allow the domestic start-up to use the brands and other assets of Inver House besides receiving substantial equity infusion in the near future.

In fact, the new name of Mr Vangal's company, Mason & Summers, is taken after a non-operating distillery of Inver House in Scotland. "There is a robust agreement in place now and the foreign partner (Pacific Spirit-Inver House) will pick up stake in the company in due course," sources said. However, there is no clarity yet on the specifics of the financial and equity component of the transaction.

With the latest deal, Inver House becomes the second global spirits company to enter the country through Mr Vangal who had earlier steered Seagram in the early 90s. He exited Seagram India by selling his strategic minority stake almost two years ago as it went to the fold of French drinks giant, Pernod Ricard.

The truck with Pacific Spirit-Inver House combine is bound to have significant impact on the Indian liquor scene as it would allow Mason & Summers to launch locally bottled scotch whiskies at prices competing with the Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) products, besides unlocking doors for admixes from Thailand that has already swamped many markets in South-East Asia.

Mason & Summers already has a presence in the IMFL sector through its original brand, Wild Horse. The rechristened company, which has manufacturing alliances with a string of distilleries across the country, including Balrampur Chini in Uttar Pradesh, is likely to introduce locally bottled scotch whiskies under Inver House brands in a price band of Rs 400 to Rs 600.

The industry observers said the formalised ties with the world's largest supplier of bulk scotch would help the Ramesh Vangal-mentored company to play the pricing game in the marketplace.

The move to make scotch whisky accessible to larger mass of consumers could redefine the dynamics of the Indian liquor market as the domestic biggies like UB Spirits Division has already indicated that it would look at cheaper scotch as the opportunity evolves in the marketplace.

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