Constellation Brands touts itself as the industry leader in beverage alcohol when it comes to producing sales growth. It is also becoming one of the quickest movers on mergers and acquisitions.
On Monday, the producer of Corona beer and Robert Mondavi wines went public with two significant deals: it agreed to sell off the company’s Canadian wine business for $780 million, and it agreed to pay about $120 million to buy the high-end portfolio of Charles Smith Wines. Tucked into the announcement, Constellation Brands also said it recently acquired a minority stake in Bardstown Bourbon Company.
Those transactions come less than two weeks after Constellation Brands
paid $160 million to buy craft spirits maker High West Distillery. The company has also recently paid $1 billion for craft brewer Ballast Point late last year and bought The Prisoner Wine Company portfolio earlier this year.
“We are continuing to refine our total portfolio,” CEO and President Rob Sands told Fortune. “The reason we are doing this is because it’ll generate better returns to our shareholders.”
Under the direction of Sands, Constellation Brands is aiming to tilt more toward premium-priced alcohol beverages, which are now favored by consumers after marketers successfully convinced the masses high-quality beverages are a better experience. In many alcohol beverage categories—from beer to whiskey to tequila—the higher-end, premium priced offerings are seeing stronger sales and taking market share from their bottom shelf competition.
The Charles Smith Wines acquisition is a bet on that premium story. Sands said the portfolio, which includes Kung Fu Girl Riesling and Velvet Devil Merlot, is fast growing and favored by millennials. Volume has increased by double digits over the last three years, including 50% growth over the past 52 weeks.
Meanwhile, the sale of the Canadian wine business to the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan is a move away from less premium wine offerings. That lower margin, lower growth portfolio of wines—which Constellation has owned since 2006—wasn’t as good of a fit for the company’s future vision. The proceeds Constellation will earn from the sale will be used for general purposes, Sands said. Those priorities include keeping debt levels in check, repaying shareholders via dividends and stock buybacks, and expanding production in Mexico.
“We believe these transactions are all positive, and expect proceeds from the sale of its Canadian wine business to be used to support STZ’s strategy of premiumization through M&A exhibited in recent acquisitions in beer (e.g. Ballast Point), wine (Meiomi, Prisoner Wine, Charles Smith), and spirits (e.g. High West, Casa Noble),” wrote Wells Fargo
analyst Bonnie Herzog in a research note.
When asked about M&A, Sands told Fortune that spirits were an area that the company was “becoming more focused on.” That makes sense because today, Constellation Brands generates far more in revenue and profit from the company’s wines and beers. Bulking up spirits would help the company participate even more in the growing category.
Sands said moves Constellation Brands has already made to enter into the premium tequila and craft American whiskey categories were on trend with consumers. “Our focus in spirits is very selective in terms of what we are looking at,” Sands said. “We are looking at very premium categories.”