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Five left in for Lanson

Published:  23 July, 2008

The sale of Groupe Lanson, formerly known as Marne
& Champagne, has moved another step closer with the 15 companies originally declaring an interest now whittled down to a short list of five.

The two Champagne companies known to be in the bidding are Group Thinot and, intriguingly, Boizel Chanoine Champagne (BCC), whose major shareholders, Bruno Paillard and Philippe Baijot, both used to work for Marne and are not believed to be on the most cordial terms with the Mora family, Lanson's majority shareholder.

The identity of the Champagne cooperative on the short list is unknown, but commentators have suggested it could be Alliance, the second-largest cooperative in Champagne and the group that markets the Jacquart brand. The majority

of Jacquart was previously made at the Cooprative Rgionale des Vins de Champagne (CRVC), better known as the Reims cooperative, but this company will not be continuing to help produce Jacquart beyond the end of 2005. Laurent Gillet, president of Alliance, denied that it has bid for Lanson

or that it has bid for any part of the group.

The other two potential purchasers are both investment funds, one of which is the American company Butler.

Centre Vinicole Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, Champagne's largest cooperative based in Chouilly, is unlikely to be interested, since its Nicolas Feuillatte brand now outsells Lanson in volume terms, with 7.1 million bottles sold in 2004 (against Lanson's 5.5m), though the Lanson name is still more widely recognised and fetches a higher price.

If BCC or Thinot were to buy Groupe Lanson and keep the group intact, it would rocket either of these relatively young companies, currently respectively ranked as the 11th- and 13th-largest in the region, into the number-two slot behind LVMH. It is, however, thought more likely they would sell bits off to help fund the purchase. They would keep the significant grape-supply contracts (or the majority of them) - the Lanson group has no vineyards of its own and buys in enough grapes each year to produce between 18m and 20m bottles of Champagne - and the substantial stock of around 60m bottles.

The impressive and fairly modern Marne production facility in Epernay, which has a capacity of around 18m bottles a year, could be sold on to Mot & Chandon, whose cellars it immediately adjoins. Such a move would enable Mot to bring all its production in-house, including Mercier. In the past, when Gaston Burtin was running Marne & Champagne and supplying many of the major houses with sur lattes Champagne for their brands, it was always rumoured there was a wall between Mot's and Marne's cellars where the cement was never dry, it being easier and cheaper simply to move bottles underground than to bring them to the surface, load a lorry and drive them 100 yards or so.

Both Alain Thinot and Bruno Paillard have had previous dealings with LVMH companies - Thinot bought Canard-Duchne in October 2003, and Bruno Paillard did a deal over De Venoge, which LVMH had bought from Rmy Cointreau, back in 1998 - so getting such a deal off the ground is entirely feasible.

Lanson alone is significantly larger than either of its biggest brands. Canard-Duchne sold around 3m bottles in 2004, while Chanoine, BCC's largest brand, sold 3.65m bottles. As former brokers, both Paillard and Thinot are seen as shrewd businessmen, quite capable of taking on the challenge of producing and marketing the Lanson brand if they choose to do so.