Diageo’s purchase of Ryan Reynolds–backed Aviation Gin is a turning point for the flooded celebrity-branded liquor market
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The total consideration is up to $610 million, which includes an initial payment of $335 million and a further potential consideration of up to $275 million, based on the performance of Aviation Gin over a 10-year period. Diageo said in a statement that this financial plan reflects the brand’s current growth trajectory and expected upside potential. The transaction is expected to close before the end of 2020. Reynolds will retain an ongoing ownership interest in Aviation Gin.
Founded in Portland, Ore., with inspiration for the company dating back to 2005, Aviation Gin has historically described itself as an “American gin,” boasting a botanical mix touted to be smoother and easier to drink when compared with London Dry gins. The company had previously been owned solely by craft spirits importer Davos Brands after being purchased in November 2016. Other spirits in Davos’s portfolio include TY KU Sake, Sombra Mezcal, and Astral Tequila.
The Deadpool actor made a splash in February 2018 with the surprise announcement of his ownership stake. Also serving as the face of the brand on billboards and in commercials, Reynolds told reporters a few months later that he planned to take an active role in the day-to-day business and creative direction of the company.
The acquisition marks Diageo’s second purchase in recent years of a Hollywood-backed spirit. In 2017, the liquor conglomerate acquired the tequila brand Casamigos, which had been cofounded four years earlier by George Clooney and Rande Gerber, in a deal estimated to be worth $1 billion.
Reynolds and Clooney are just two among many Hollywood personalities who have invested in liquor brands in the past several years, although they are among the few who have seen the most in returns thus far. Some of the other more successful collaborations to date include Sean “Diddy” Combs serving as brand ambassador for vodka brand Cîroc since as far back as 2007; Justin Timberlake’s tequila collaboration with Casa Sauza; and reality star Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl line, which spans wine, vodka, margaritas, and sangria in partnership with Beam Suntory. Matthew McConaughey also announced in 2018 that he was working on a collaboration to launch Wild Turkey Longbranch, a bourbon filtered with Texas mesquite and oak charcoals.
The well is deep with celebrities in the wine industry, too, including Francis Ford Coppola’s sprawling wine estates in Napa Valley, and Miraval Rosé, sourced from France’s famed Provence region and a joint purchase in 2012 by then-couple Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Then again, not all celebrity-endorsed wines and spirits find success with fans, and some have become more sources of mockery than revenue. Cameron Diaz’s recent wine-market debut, the so-called clean wine Avaline, was met this summer with a lukewarm reception given it doesn’t actually meet natural wine standards.
Nevertheless, Diageo’s multimillion (and billion)-dollar purchases will likely entice more celebrities to lend their names to beer, wine, and spirits brands, providing perhaps a safer stream of cash, especially while television and film productions remain in limbo in the U.S. as the pandemic continues.
For Diageo, the purchase of Aviation Gin pads the company’s extensive portfolio—expanding its presence in the super-premium gin market, which has surged in popularity in recent years even if the definition of super-premium still remains debatable. In 2019, Aviation Gin grew volumes at over 100%, adding the highest number of cases and contributing 40% of super-premium gin segment growth, according to IWSR data.
But it also helps to have another gin brand in the mix; gin sales have been up in the past few years thanks to the rising popularity of certain cocktails, namely the Negroni. Aviation Gin will join Tanqueray, Gordon’s, and Gilbey’s gin in the Diageo liquor cabinet. The London-based corporation also owns Scotch whisky maker Johnnie Walker, Captain Morgan rum, Baileys Irish Cream, Don Julio tequila, Guinness beer, and vodka makers Smirnoff, Cîroc, and Ketel One.