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Babycham home may lose its fizz

By This is Somerset  |  Posted: December 03, 2009

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THE iconic tipple that brought fizz to post-war Shepton Mallet could be about to depart the town for good.

The multi-million pound deal announced for the sale of Shepton Mallet's cider-making businesses is an early Christmas present for the 200-plus people employed at the Gaymer Cider mill because it could secure the future of the site.

But it may spell the end of Babycham at Shepton Mallet.

On Monday it was revealed that Constellation Brands Inc, the parent company that owns the Gaymer Cider Company, was selling the division to the C&C Group, the drinks manufacturer that makes Irish Magners cider.

Subject to the usual regulatory requirements, it is expected that the deal, valued at £45 million, will be completed by mid-January.

All employees at Shepton Mallet – including managing director Peter Spencer – will transfer to the C&C Group, as will the cider mill and supporting warehouse facilities, including at Shepton's Fosse Lane site. But the package does not include the Babycham brand, which will stay under the ownership of Constellation.

Constellation has pledged that it will work alongside the C&C Group for up to six months for what it describes as continuity of service and a seamless transition.

And it will be in this six-month 'transitional' period that decisions are made about the future production of Babycham – including where it is to be made long-term.

It may mean that Babycham ends up being produced at one of Constellation's drink factories across the country, rather than at Shepton Mallet, where it was created by Francis Showering in 1947.

Babycham – seen now as the country's first 'girly' drink – was launched nationally in 1952 and was the first alcoholic product to be advertised on UK television.

The call "I'd Love A Babycham" became so popular that by 1955 supplies of the drink had to be rationed and in 1968 the sale of the company to Allied Lyons made millionaires of Showering and his three elder brothers.

But since the 1980s, the Babycham brand has been in decline and it is thanks to multi-million pound investments that the former Showering site has thrived, its emphasis shifting away from fermented pear juice to cider.

All of Gaymer's cider brands – which are also part of the deal – are produced at Shepton Mallet, including Blackthorn, Olde English, Gaymer's Original, Addlestones, Orchard Reserve and Diamond White.

In all, more than 260 million pints of cider are produced at Shepton Mallet each year. In comparison, just three million litres of Babycham are made – 15 million of the little 200ml bottles.

Spokesman Simon Russell said Babycham, a perry, was classified as a wine-style drink, rather than a cider and therefore was not part of Gaymer.

He added: "Whether it will be made at Shepton will be subject to discussion between C&C Group and Constellation during the transitional period after the deal completes."

Despite that, Mr Russell said it was recognised as a "well-loved brand".

"The Constellation business is still focused on Babycham, especially at this time of year," he said.

Peter Spencer, managing director of GCC, said: "This represents a real opportunity for Gaymer Cider and the people within the company. However, it is business as usual for both organisations for now.

"Once the deal is completed, we can look to manage the issues of integration and future planning."

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