Speculation is growing in the drinks industry that Auckland's Independent Liquor is looking to make a move into retail through buying one of the largest bottle store operators, The Mill.
Sources say rumours are afoot that the Papakura-based manufacturer - which brews international beer brands such as Carlsberg and Kingfisher under licence but is best known for pioneering the development of Australasia's RTD market - is in talks about acquiring the retailer, or that a deal may have already been struck.
Independent chief executive Julian Davidson said he "wouldn't like to comment" on whether the company was in the process of buying The Mill, but that no sale had taken place.
According to its website, The Mill is the largest independent liquor retailer, with 35 stores from Whangarei to Dunedin plus an online shop.
Independent, which is at the centre of a stoush over the $1.5 billion price tag Japanese brewer Asahi paid for the business in 2011, was scoping a range of acquisition opportunities, particularly in the craft beer space, Davidson said.
"We're looking at lots of things in the market, but I wouldn't like to comment specifically on [The Mill]."
Davidson would not rule out the prospect of the company moving into retail.
"Anything is possible," he said.
The Mill is owned by New Plymouth-based Christopher and Nyall Simkin, according to the Companies Office.
Its website says the firm opened its first store in Taranaki in 1993 and the business had been successful as a result of low overheads and reduced prices.
Asked about the acquisition speculation yesterday, Nyall Simkin said "there's nothing to talk about at the moment at all".
One source said The Mill was a big discounter and if the acquisition took place Independent's customers - other retailers - might not be happy with the manufacturer stepping on to their turf and undercutting their prices.
"You would be seeing a heavy discount producer getting together with a heavy discount retailer, which seems like a nasty cocktail."
Local brewing giant Lion owns the Liquor King chain of bottle stores.
The fact that Independent - which bought a small Nelson craft brewery just before Christmas - continues to express an interest in local acquisitions shows Asahi has not been put off by the alleged "deceptive conduct" it says took place when it bought Independent.