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Constellation to invest $100m in female-founded drinks firms

US drinks group Constellation Brands plans to invest US$100 million in women-led alcohol businesses over the next 10 years as part of its new Focus on Female Founders programme.

L-r: Kelly Gasink and Jill Burns, founders of Austin Cocktails

Through the company’s corporate venture capital arm, Constellation Brands Ventures (CBV), the firm has completed its first investments in Texas-based bottled cocktail company Austin Cocktails and premium alcohol producer Vivify Beverages. Terms of both deals have not been disclosed.

The programme supports up-and-coming brands that are in or adjacent to the alcoholic drinks category, which are led or founded by women.

Statistics cited by Constellation show that female-led businesses are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurship in the US and generate two times the revenue per dollar versus the average non-women-owned businesses; however only 2% of venture capital funding went to female-led companies in 2017.

In addition to capital, beneficiaries will also receive access to Constellation’s staff and mentors, brand-building, supply chain, governance and finance expertise, strong relations with distributors and retail partners and a community of fellow female entrepreneurs who can share knowledge and offer support.

The Focus on Female Founders programme is in line with Constellation’s strategy of “investing in emerging, unique and distinctive brands”. The firm will “continue to look for brands that have a point of differentiation in the market”.

“Our Focus on Female Founders programme reinforces our commitment to supporting the advancement of women within our company, within our industry, and in our local communities,” said Mallika Monteiro, chief growth officer, Constellation Brands.

“This programme is designed to make meaningful investments in female-founded and female-led businesses doing disruptive and innovative work across beverage alcohol.”

Austin Cocktails was founded in 2012 by sisters Jill Burns and Kelly Gasink in Austin. The firm uses family recipes from their grandfather Fred and features five bottled cocktails in the range.

“We’ve worked hard to get where we are, and we’re thrilled to have an investment from Constellation Brands to help us continue on our growth journey,” said Burns. “Constellation Brands’ reach, scale and influence will help take Austin Cocktails to a whole new level.”

Vivify Beverages produces “flavourful” products that meet “consumer needs in the beer aisle”. The firm produces gluten-free alcohol spritzer Itz Spritz and canned ready-to-drink brand Bravazzi Hard Italian Soda.

The company’s leadership team – co-founder Sarah Ross; Anne Ellis, co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing; and Bob Walkenhorst, co-founder and chief executive officer – will work with Constellation Brands to gain new consumers and market share and boost growth.

“Women are an underrepresented demographic in the beverage alcohol industry and we are committed to doing our part to help change this,” said Bill Newlands, president and chief operating officer, and incoming CEO of Constellation Brands.

“As consumer demographics, needs and choices continue to evolve, we believe the focus and point of view that women-led businesses bring to the table will help drive transformative innovation and accelerated growth for our business and, more importantly, for the beverage alcohol space at-large.”

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