Philip Morris Co. has reportedly called off its agreement to sell Seven-Up Co. to PepsiCo Inc., following separate actions last week by the Federal Trade Commission and a federal judge to temporarily block the sale, sources said yesterday.
By canceling the planned $380 million sale, Philip Morris is free to reopen the bidding for Seven-Up, beginning what may be a new round of mergers in the $30 billion-a-year soft drink industry.
According to unconfirmed reports, Anheuser-Busch Inc. is one of the companies said to be interested in Seven-Up's domestic business. A spokesman for the beer company declined to comment.
Pepsi is thought still to be interested in Seven-Up's overseas business, which caught Pepsi's eye in the first place as it looked for ways to match Coca-Cola's profitable foreign operations.
A bid by Pepsi for the foreign operations alone would present less of an antitrust problem than Pepsi's offer for all of Seven-Up. That, plus Coca-Cola's offer to buy Dr Pepper Co., would have given Coke and Pepsi about 80 percent of the nation's soft drink market, according to industry analysts' estimates.
On Friday, a unanimous Federal Trade Commission voted to seek a court order blocking both deals because of the market power Coke and Pepsi would enjoy. The same day a U.S. District Court judge in Columbus, Ga., granted a request by Royal Crown Cola Co. for a temporary order barring the mergers. The Philip Morris decision to pull out of the agreement apparently would settle its part of the two legal disputes. Coca-Cola's legal plans had not been announced as of yesterday.
Meanwhile, Cadbury-Schweppes PLC of Britain is close to buying two or three soft drink brands from RJR Nabisco Inc., said Jesse Meyers, publisher of the industry newsletter Beverage Digest.
Cadberry-Schweppes, which sells tonics and other mixers, has less than 1 percent of the soft drink market, Meyers said. If it buys Canada Dry, Sunkist and Hawaiian Punch from RJR Nabisco, that share would jump to 5 percent.
Coca-Cola is the leader, with 39 percent of soft drink sales, followed by PepsiCo, with 29 percent. Dr Pepper has about 7 percent of sales, followed by Seven-Up, with over 6 percent. Royal Crown is fifth, with about 5 percent, according to estimates by Meyers and other analysts. (The estimates are approximate because sales information is incomplete and there is an ongoing debate about which beverages should be included in the calculations.)
Royal Crown attorneys argued in the Columbus court last week that Coca-Cola and Pepsi would ultimately control 90 percent or more of the carbonated soft drink market if their planned acquisitions took place.
But some industry analysts said that however the antitrust issues are resolved, the Coke and Pepsi brands are likely to continue to gain market share because of their financial and marketing strength.