C&C Group To Buy Vermont Hard Cider Company For $305 Million

Woodchuck Cider LogoVermont Hard Cider Company LLC — maker of Woodchuck Hard Cider — today announced it would sell to the Irish cider company, C&C Group, for $305 million.

“It is our belief that significant opportunities for growth of the cider category are possible by combining these iconic cider brands,” said Bret Williams, Vermont Hard Cider President and CEO, in press materials.

Vermont Hard Cider Company joins an impressive C&C portfolio that includes brands like Magners and Hornsby’s. C&C purchased Hornsby’s last year for $26 million.

It’s the third deal in the cider space this year. In August, Vermont Hard Cider Company relinquished its distribution rights for the Strongbow brand to Heineken. And in February, Tenth and Blake – MillerCoors’ craft arm —purchased Crispin Cider for an undisclosed amount. The Wall Street Journal has pegged that deal at $40 million.

The Woodchuck brand has something of a storied past. The cider company launched in 1991 as Green Mountain Beverage Company and was acquired in 1998 by H.P. Bulmer of England — at the time, the largest global cider producer. After Bulmer teetered on the edge of bankruptcy for years, Scottish & Newcastle purchased the company in 2003 for $278 million euros (Scottish & Newcastle was later acquired by Heineken, in 2008).

During the 2003 sale, Scottish & Newcastle reportedly had little interest in the U.S. cider business and Williams — who had been with Green Mountain Beverage since 1996 — assembled a small group of investors who were able to purchase the Woodchuck brand. Under Williams’ leadership, the company has become the largest U.S. cider maker, producing 215,000 barrels in 2011. The company is also in the midst of a $22 million expansion which includes a new, 100,000 square foot production facility scheduled to open in the summer of 2013.

Both domestic and craft brewers are paying attention to the cider space too. Anheuser-Busch extended its Michelob Ultra line with a light cider offering and the Boston Beer Company rolled out its Angry Orchard Hard Cider line nationwide in April.

Hard cider currently makes up less than 1 percent of total U.S. beer market (roughly 6 million cases), but growth is promising. The category generated nearly $450 million in retail sales in 2011, up 23 percent over 2010.

Vermont Hard Cider Company’s press release, with more details on the acquisition, is posted below.

MIDDLEBURY, VT — The Vermont Hard Cider Company, LLC — maker of Woodchuck Hard Cider, the #1 cider brand in the United States — has conditionally agreed to combine with C&C Group — maker of cider brands in Ireland and the UK. The transaction, which is subject to competition and regulatory approvals, will allow the company to fully harness and maximize the growth of its US cider business.

Vermont Hard Cider Company, LLC will operate on a standalone basis as a wholly-owned subsidiary of C&C. Bret Williams will remain the President and CEO of the Vermont Hard Cider Company. The Woodchuck Brand will remain firmly rooted in Vermont, utilizing its current workforce. C&C Group has committed to move forward with the planned cidery construction here in Middlebury.

The US cider category is experiencing tremendous growth. As a category, sales are up almost 60% over last year. Woodchuck Hard Cider’s growth continues at 25% a year. With this swift growth comes the need for a deeper investment. One that will make certain Woodchuck remains the leader of the category it reinvented from a rural Vermont garage in 1991.

In C&C Group we find a like minded partner.

C&C Group is a cider company. They have been making cider in the UK and Ireland since 1935. They are committed to using the finest ingredients, supporting local agriculture, and working to reduce their environmental footprint. They will invest in the expansion and future of the Vermont Hard Cider Company, providing a solid base for the overall US portfolio. The expansion will enable C&C to participate further in the expected growth of the US cider category and will offer the potential for more jobs in our local community.

“We recognize what Vermont Hard Cider has done to support and grow the cider industry in the United States. The cider category wouldn’t exist today, if not for the hard work they have put in over the last two decades.” said Stephen Glancey, C&C CEO. “Their ability to innovate rare and limited batch ciders serves to push the category forward in the years to come. It is an exciting time to be in the cider business and we are excited to be leading the way.”

“C&C recognizes that in order to maintain Woodchuck’s current success, its core values must remain intact. The brand and company will remain rooted in Vermont, utilizing its current workforce, and the quality of the liquid will not be compromised.” said Bret Williams, VTHCC President and CEO. “It is our belief that significant opportunities for growth of the cider category are possible by combining these iconic cider brands.”

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