Lion takes full control of Four Pillars

Four years after buying a half share in Four Pillars Gin, Lion has taken full ownership of the award-winning distillery.

According to the Australian Financial Review, Lion is believed to have purchased the remaining 50 per cent stake in the distillery for about $50 million. It initially acquired half the business in 2019 for an estimated $40 million.

Four Pillars was founded in 2013 by Stuart Gregor, Matt Jones and Cameron Mackenzie. Gregor (below), who was inducted into the Australian Distillers Hall of Fame earlier this year, will leave the business on September 1. Chief distiller Mackenzie and brand and strategy director Jones will stay in their roles.

“We’re delighted to have really extended our partnership to ownership,” Lion CEO Sam Fischer said.

“We’ve seen spirits as a category growing for many years. We think that that will continue to grow, and we think premium Australian spirits will continue to be a relevant category within that. We’ve also got New Zealand, we’ve got the US, we’ve got Japan, and we’ve got global travel retail as big paths for growth.”

Four Pillars will join Lion’s Vanguard Luxury Brands distribution business, which will now will operate as a standalone spirits division within Lion, called Four Corners Global Spirits. The division will be headed up by former Beam Suntory executive Ed Stening, who will report to Lion Australia managing director and former Diageo MD David Smith.

Four Pillars said: “Lion has backed us through Covid, helped us fund our incredible new distillery and allowed us to grow, create and experiment in gin as much as we liked. And we have grown together, we have learnt more about how to work with customers across Australia and New Zealand and they have learnt what makes Australia’s top craft distillery tick.

“This is a great day for our investors (many of whom are staff and old mates) who supported us when we were nothing more than a pipe dream. It is also a day where we need to reinforce what we have done and will continue to do: make the world’s best gin at the world’s most sustainable distillery while having a lot of fun.”

Ed Stening, Cameron Mackenzie and Sam Fischer.

As for what changes can be expected, Four Pillars said: “In the short term, not much. Because this next phase is all about growth, we will likely employ more people soon, rather than fewer, and hope to see the distillery and whole business prosper under the new era.”

Spirited acquisition as beer sales decline

The acquisition comes as beer sales feel the heat, with new data from Roy Morgan’s Alcohol Consumption Report showing the category that hasn’t been able to arrest a long-term decline. Although consumption of beer did increase during the early stages of the pandemic this momentum quickly dissipated.

Now under a third of Australians, 6,537,000 (32.2%) consume beer, down significantly from the 7,413,000 (37.6%) who did so in the 12 months to March 2020 just before the pandemic struck and turned the world upside down during much of the past three years.

“Although beer did enjoy an increase in consumption during 2021, now only 32.2% of Australian adults drink beer in an average four weeks, down significantly by 5.4% points from pre-pandemic in March 2020 – the largest decline of any form of alcohol,” Roy Morgan CEO Michelle Levine said.

“The decline in beer drinking since 2005 has been more sustained than any other type of alcohol and the early signs are that the short-term pandemic impact on beer drinking has not been enough to halt the long-term trend.”

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