Bols Distilleries NV

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Bols Distilleries NV

2700 AE Zoetermeer
NL-2152 CZ Nieuw-Vennep
Telephone: (+31) 79-3305-305
Fax: (+31) 79-3305-353
Web site:

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Remy Cointreau SA
Sales: $742 million (2004 est.)
NAIC: 312140 Distilleries

Bols Distilleries NV is the leading producer of genever, the Dutch form of gin and the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage in the Netherlands, as well as a variety of other spirits and liqueurs. The company produces a range of genevers, under the Bols and Bokma brands, among others, spanning the range of official genever classifications (grain, old, young, and korenwijn). Together, Bols' brands control some 50 percent of the total Dutch genever market. Internationally, the Bols brand is better known for its range of gin, vodka, and liqueur products. The company markets its gin under the Damrak Amsterdam label. Bols vodkas are available as non-flavored and as Lemon Ice, Forrest Fruits, Mandarin, and Peach. Liqueurs forms one of the largest branches of the Bols brand family. The company's liqueur range includes 24 varieties, ranging from Bols Blue, a blue curacao liqueur and one of the group's oldest liqueurs, to coconut, peppermint, triple sec, banana, and coffee, among others. Since 2000, Bols Distilleries has formed a major part of France's Remy Cointreau group. The addition of Bols helped boost Remy Cointreau into the ranks of the world's leading drinks groups. Distribution of Bols products, especially on the international market, is handled by Maxxium, a joint-venture distribution group set up by Remi Cointreau, the Edrington Group, and Jim Beam at the end of the 1990s that also includes V&S Group, which joined in 2001. Bols Distilleries itself serves as a holding company for several Remy Cointreau drinks units, including Erven Lucas Bols NV, which directly oversees much of the Bols's production, fellow Dutch genever producer Bokma, and Greece's Metaxa.

16th Century Origins of a Dutch National Drink

Since the 16th century, the Bols name has been at the center of the Netherlands' liqueur and spirits industry, specifically with respect to the production of genever, considered by some to be something of the Dutch national drink. Genever itself appeared to have developed from several different origins. Methods for the distillation of alcohol had appeared in Italy and France in the Middle Ages, with these countries' vast vineyards providing the raw materials for the creation of new types of alcoholic beverages. The use of distillation slowly spread into northern Europe, where, due to this region's lack of vineyards, methods were developed for the distillation of alcohol from grains and other sources. The new type of alcohol became known as gin, with the dryer English variant becoming the most internationally known gin type.

Geneva, Switzerland, was purportedly the site of the creation of another, sweeter tasting variant of gin, which became known as genever. Some sources trace the origins of genever to French-speaking Flanders, with the term genever derived from the French word "genièvre." In the meantime, the grain-based distillation had reached the Netherlands, where Dutch distillers developed their own recipe for gin, based on "coorn," a mash of barley malt and other grains, which was then roasted ("branden"), and mixed with water and yeast. The resulting alcohol became known as "korenbrandewijn."

Coornbranders, as the Dutch distillers were originally known, began seeking ways to improve the basic korenbrandewijn recipe. In particular, distillers sought to improve the flavor of the pure distilled alcohol. The Dutch Golden Age and the country's farflung colonial empire had introduced a wide variety of herbs, spices, fruits, and other products previously unknown to the European continent. Dutch distillers began experimenting with the new ingredients, creating a variety of beverages from the korenbrandwijn recipes.

Sylvius de Bouve, a well-known figure of the 16th century who had served as a professor at the University of Leyden, was among those experimenting with korenbrandwijn recipes. De Bouve, who was a noted pharmacist, chemist, and alchemist, hit upon using juniper berries, which were believed to have medicinal benefits, in the korenbrandewijn recipe. By reducing the alcohol content, and adding the flavor of the juniper berries, De Bouve had succeeded in creating a more palatable variation of the drink. As was common during the period, the new alcoholic beverage was meant to serve as a medicine. By 1595, De Bouve had begun selling his juniper-based gin as a remedy for lumbago and associated pain under the name Genova.

The Genova recipe quickly became a popular beverage among Dutch drinkers, who adopted the name genever for the spirt. By this time, other distillers had begun producing their own genevers. Among this group, the Bols family emerged as one of the country's most prominent distillers. The Bols family, led by Lucas Bols, set up its own distillery in a wooden shed next to a small river outside of Amsterdam in 1575. The family called the distillery " 't Lootsje" ("the little shed").

Bols proximity to the bustling Amsterdam port, then one of the busiest in the world, gave him a ready source of the growing variety of exotic spices, fruits, plants, and other foods arriving from the Dutch colonial possessions and elsewhere. In this way, Bols began developing a variety of liqueur recipes, using such ingredients as coffee from South America, cinnamon from Asia, curacao, orange blossoms and other citrus fruits from the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and elsewhere, and cloves and other ingredients from Africa. A number of the company's longstanding recipes dated from Bols's earliest period, with such liqueurs as Bols Blue curacao remaining strong sellers into the 21st century.

Bols also began producing its own variant of the genever recipe, capturing the attention of the Amsterdam and later Dutch market. By the beginning of the 17th century, the company had become a prominent distiller in the city. In 1612, in order to meet the rising demand for its beverages, the company established a new and larger distillery on one of Amsterdam's most important canals, the Rozengracht. The stone building, which remained owned by the company nearly five centuries later, also became known as 't Lootsje. Its situation on the Rozengracht enabled the company to receive shipments of spices and other ingredients directly by boat.

Diversified Portfolio in the 1980s

The Bols family remained involved in the distillery for more than 250 years. The company's recipes remained strictly guarded, and leadership of the company was passed from father to son. By 1816, however, the direct family line had come to an end. The company and its recipes were sold to owners from outside of the family. Nonetheless, terms of the sale included the condition that the company permanently retain the Bols name. Thus, it became known as Erven Lucas Bols ("Heirs of Lucas Bols").

The Rozengracht canal was filled in 1889 in order to provide a new major thoroughfare for the city. At the same time, the Rozengracht site lacked the capacity for further expansion for the company. As a result, Bols decided to move out of Amsterdam, setting up a new facility in nearby Nieuw Vennep.

While genever proved more or less an exclusively Dutch pleasure, with the rest of the world preferring the dryer British variant, Bols nonetheless achieved a great deal of success on the international front through sales of its popular liqueur recipes. Former Dutch colonial possessions proved natural markets for the group's products, and by the 1930s the company had begun to expand even further abroad. South America became an important market for the company, and a subsidiary was established in Argentina as early as 1935.

Other international markets followed, with the company's Blue curacao playing a prominent role in the group's growing international success. By the 1970s, Bols had continued its expansion, adding, among other markets, operations in Brazil toward the middle of that decade. By the mid-1980s, Bols's products had reached more than 125 international markets.

Bols was among the first to recognize a coming slowdown in the Dutch and global alcoholic beverages markets. Increasing health consciousness among consumers, including the growing awareness of the negative effects of alcohol consumption, was beginning to impede the growth of the market. A new generation of adult drinkers was increasingly turning away from traditional spirits and liqueurs in favor of other beverages.

Bols recognition of these trends led the group to launch a diversification effort as early as the late 1970s. The company's first move beyond its core, largely Netherlands-focused genever and liqueurs business, came in 1977 with the acquisition of Cynar. That purchase enabled Bols to claim a leading position in the Italian liqueurs market, adding the alcoholic beverages Cynar, an artichoke-based aperitif, and the popular Bianconsarti brand.

Bols sought further expansion at the beginning of the 1980s. The fruit juice and soft drink market became an obvious target for the company. At the same time, the company's strong presence in the Italian market stimulated its interest in further expansion in that country. In 1983, therefore, the company added its first non-alcoholic beverage operations with the acquisition of Terme di Crodo. Based in the Italian Alps, the company produced Crodino, a popular carbonated, orange-flavored, non-alcoholic aperitif.

Company Perspectives:

The fact that Lucas Bols understood that growing popularity is based on constant quality becomes evident in the family's coat of arms, which bears the Latin motto "Semper Idem" ("Always the Same"). To the master distiller of today this means that he is committed to composing liqueurs, genevers and other spirits of the same high quality every day. His craftsmanship is now backed up by a system of strict quality controls, both techical and organoleptic.

After paying NLG 90 million for the Crodino acquisition, Bols continued its expansion in the mid-1980s and through the end of the decade, spending more than NLG 300 million. Part of this effort went toward increasing the company's range of soft drinks, notably with the purchase of the popular Oransoda and Lemonsoda brands of carbonated soft drinks. The company also began a large-scale expansion to boost capacity, building a new bottling plant, adding a new production facility in the south of Italy, and extending its distribution operations in Switzerland. That country served as the site for the company's full-fledged entrance into the mineral water market with the purchase of Adelboden in 1986. Bols boosted its mineral waters division again in 1989 when it acquired a source in Italy as well.

Market Leadership in the 1990s

The beginnings of a great consolidation wave among the global drinks industry in the 1980s led Bols to seek greater scale. Already the leading distiller in the Netherlands, the company launched a new campaign to become the market's dominant player in the mid-1980s. One of the first steps in this effort came in 1986, when Bols acquired rival genever producer Henkes. Based in Rotterdam, Henkes also brought Bols into the world of retailing with its network of liquor stores in the Netherlands.

In order to strengthen its distribution, Bols turned to Germany for its next acquisition. In 1988, the company acquired Strothmann Brennereien GmbH & Co AG. The addition of Strothmann gave Bols control of that company's market-leading position in the German Korn schnapps market, with a 15 percent share. Strothmann also gave Bols a solid distribution network in Germany, as well as a strong production unit. Indeed, following the acquisition of Strothmann, Bols closed down its own, smaller, production unit in Germany.

A major event in Bols's expansion was the company's merger with Gedistilleerd en Wijngroep Nederland (GWN), the wine and distilled beverages unit of Heineken. GWN had been Bols's largest rival in the Netherlands genever market since its purchase in 1971 of the Bokma brand. Through its merger with GWN, Bols attained a market share approaching 50 percent in the Dutch distilled beverages market.

New Owners for the New Century

Bols continued its expansion into the early 1990s. In 1989, for example, the company branched out into wine distribution with the purchase of 85 percent of Consortium Vinicole de Bordeaux (CVBG), formerly part of Douwe Egberts. Bols followed up this purchase with the acquisition of three smaller wine traders in France's Anjou, Cotes du Rhone, and Beaujolais regions. The company also boosted its operations in Italy in 1990, buying up Ottavio Riccadonna, adding that company's Spumante and Ricadonna brands.

Nevertheless, Bols remained a mid-sized player in an increasingly globalized market dominated by far larger competitors. In 1993, the company appeared to have found a way to take itself to the next level when it agreed to merge with Dutch foods group Wessanen. However, the merger of Wessanen's dairy products and Bols alcoholic beverages made little sense. By the end of the decade, the combined company, known as Bols Wessanen, was forced to accept the obvious, and in 1999 Bols was spun off in a management buyout backed by the Australian investment firm of CVC Limited. By then, Bols had already settled into its new main production plant and headquarters, in Zoetermeer, near Rotterdam.

Bols's new independence proved short-lived, however. The crushing competition of the global market forced the company to look for a larger partner in order to ensure its survival. By 2000, the company had agreed to be acquired by France's drinks giant Remy Cointreau for EUR 510 million ($446 million). Bols Distilleries was then established as the holding company for Erven Lucas Bols, as well as the group's distribution operations, which included subsidiaries in Hungary, Poland, and elsewhere, as well as Bokma and the Greek liqueur producer Metaxa.

By 2001, however, Remy Cointreau separated much of Bols's international distribution operations, which were then placed into the Maxximum joint venture set up among Remy Cointreau, the Edrington Group, and Jim Beam in 1999. Remy Cointreau continued to reposition its own distribution business into the mid-2000s. In 2005, for example, the company decided to sell off Bols's vodka production operations in Poland to Central European Distribution Corporation in exchange for a stake in that company. The move gave Remy Cointreau strong access to the Eastern European markets. The Bols brand remained a central feature of the enlarged drinks group portfolio, remaining the dominant Netherlands genever producer, as well as a globally recognized player in the liqueur market.

Key Dates:

Lucas Bols family sets up a distillery in a woodshed outside of Amsterdam, and later begins producing genever, a Dutch variant of gin.
Bols opens a larger distillery on Amsterdam's Rozengracht canal.
Company ownership by the Bols family ends and the distillery is named Erven Lucas Bols ("Heirs of Lucas Bols").
The company moves to a new factory in Nieuw Vennep, outside of Amsterdam.
Bols launches its first diversification effort, acquiring Italian aperitif group Cynar.
The company diversifies into soft drinks with the purchase of Terme di Crono and its Crodino brand.
Oransoda and Lemonsoda brands and genever rival Henkes are acquired; Bols extends into mineral waters with its Swiss Adelboden brand.
German korn schnapps leader Strothmann Brennereien GmbH & Co AG is acquired.
Bols merges with the GWN unit of Heineken.
The company merges with Wessanen, creating Bols Wessanen.
The company moves to a new headquarters and production facility in Zoetermeer.
CVC backs a management buyout of Bols.
Remy Cointreau acquires Bols.
Remy Cointreau sells Bols vodka production unit in Poland to Central European Distribution Corporation.

Principal Subsidiaries

't Lootsje II BV; Bokma Distillateurs BV; Bols Distilleries BV Distribution; Distilleerderijen Erven Lucas Bols BV; Erven Lucas Bols NV; Gedistilleerd en Wijn Groep Nederland BV; Meekma Distileerderijen BV; Metaxa BV.

Principal Competitors

Diageo plc; Seagram Company Ltd.; Jim Beam Brands Worldwide Inc.; Irish Distillers Group plc; United Distillers and Vintners Ltd.; Allied Distillers Ltd.; Cantrell and Cochrane Group Ltd.

Further Reading

"Bols Unveils a Modern Design," Duty-Free News International, September 15, 2004, p. 11.

De Vries, Peter Paul, "Drama Wessanen," Effect, No. 3, 2003.

"Remy Cointreau and Bols Merge," Corporate Money, September 6, 2000, p. 4.

"Remy Cointreau to Acquire Bols for $446 million," International Financial Law Review, October 2000, p. 8.

M.L. Cohen