Magners owner C&C targets sport sponsorship and local raw materials in bid to grow brands in Scotland

IRISH drinks group C&C, the company behind Magners cider, is understood to be planning a major push into Scotland next year to consolidate its forays into the United Kingdom.

It is considering a "step change" in sponsorship and marketing and is believed to be looking at sourcing more local raw material, such as malt and barley, in Scotland rather than in continental Europe.

A significant investment is now thought to be in the pipeline to raise the profile of its brands, with some big ticket events such as rugby and golf among those being considered for sponsorship.

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A year ago C&C shipped in new top management including former directors and managers at Scottish & Newcastle following the Edinburgh-based brewing giant's takeover by Heineken and Carlsberg.

John Dunsmore, group chief executive and former chief executive of S&N, splashed out 185 million last August on the Scottish, Irish and Northern Irish businesses of Anheuser-Busch InBev, which embraced flagship Scottish lager brand Tennent's, produced at Glasgow's Wellpark brewery and accounting for one in three pints of lager sold in Scotland.

C&C inherited Tennent's sponsorship of the Scotland football team and T in the Park, the outdoor music event styled "Scotland's Glastonbury".

Sponsorship of the Scottish Football Association (SFA) – worth 1 million a year – began in 2006 and is due to run until 30 June next year.

The SFA said it was "in dialogue" about new sponsorship but it is understood Dunsmore has ambitious plans for C&C's sponsorship strategy and that other sports associated with Scotland, including golf and rugby, are high on the list of potential targets.

It is believed the C&C management – which also includes former S&N men Stephen Glancey as chief operating officer and Kenny Neison as strategy director – also thinks there are new opportunities in sponsorship as capital-strapped banks review their spending. Banks have been big sports sponsors, with Royal Bank of Scotland sponsoring the Six Nations rugby tournament until 2013.

A related advertising push by C&C next spring is also understood to be in the pipeline, partly to help reposition the Magners cider brand which goes head-to-head against Heineken's (and formerly S&N's) Bulmers in Scotland. C&C's ciders were beefed up in November when the Irish group paid 45m for the UK cider assets of Constellation Brands, including Gaymers, Blackthorn and Olde English. It is understood C&C believes its new diversified drinks offering justifies beefing up its advertising and marketing spend.

It comes as the company battles to improve its Magners' sales after they fell last year. It believes the Tennent's acquisition will strengthen distribution of Magners in both Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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One analyst said: "When the S&N people went in a little over a year ago C&C sold one major well-known product, Magners.

"Now, however, Tennent's and the extra cider brands, which have made them the clear number two player in the UK cider market, have transformed all that. C&C's new management may feel what they have acquired has been under-invested in and this should be rectified."

Local sourcing of malt, barley, cans and bottles could also be in the pipeline as long-term contracts for raw materials with InBev's previous suppliers in Europe run out.

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