Bunhill: Aqua Libra

WHEN the chairman starts to plug one of his products, you know that it's not going so well. So cognoscenti of Grand Met - particularly its drinks subsidiary, IDV - started to worry about sales of Aqua Libra 18 months ago when the then Sir Allen Sheppard interrupted his chairman's speech to pour out a glass, explaining that his bodily fluids needed rebalancing. Until that point Aqua Libra was yet another brilliant notion from the lovely folks who had brought you Malibu and Baileys Irish Cream.

But IDV has now sold Aqua Libra, together with a batch of other 'adult soft drinks' to the romantically named Orchid Drinks Company, based in salubrious downtown Hartlepool.

Actually it's a complicated story with several happy endings. Orchid is a spin-off from Cameron's Breweries. This innocent brewer was caught up in the game of pass-the-share- parcel so popular in the late 1980s. After passing through the hands of the Barclay Brothers, it ended up with the late lamented Brent Walker. Rob Shotton, the production director, tried to lead a management buy-out, but failed to compete with a bid from The Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries.

After the usual traumas - remortgaging his house, etc - he acquired the soft drinks side.

Since then the renamed Orchid has developed Aqua Libra's most successful rival, Ame, and Shotton is looking forward to exploiting his acquisition's brands - and its 'beautiful bottling hall'.

And he has to admit that Cameron's new production director is making Strongarm, the brewery's pride and joy, 'even better than I did'.

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