Jillkerry Ward, a 37-year-old bartender at upscale French restaurant Le Cirque in New York, grabbed a glass Friday night and poured a negroni: two parts gin, a splash of sweet vermouth and two shots of Campari.
“We probably pour 10 to 15 of these every night,” she said, garnishing the cocktail with an orange. “It’s a classic.”
Davide Campari-Milano SpA, which sells the bitter aperitif and is Italy’s largest maker of alcoholic beverages, has doubled in value in the last five years and reached a record in October as demand for Campari in Italy increased. Thirst for the company’s other brands, such as Skyy vodka and Wild Turkey bourbon, has expanded in the U.S. and Brazil as well.
The surge has made 79-year-old Rosa Anna Magno Garavoglia Italy’s oldest known female billionaire. Garavoglia, who controls a 31 percent economic interest in the company, has a net worth of at least $1.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. She has never appeared on an international wealth ranking.
The company, based in Milan, had revenue of 1.3 billion euros ($1.7 billion) in revenue in the last 12 months, up 30 percent over its fiscal year 2009 sales. It controls more than 45 brands in 190 countries, including the rights to produce and distribute Jagermeister liqueur and Glenfiddich Scotch whisky.
The company has been on a buying binge, spending more than $1 billion since 2007 to acquire eight beverage companies in the U.S., Europe and emerging markets such as Brazil and Jamaica. More than three-quarters of its sales come from spirits, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“Campari has taken positive steps to get products that have credibility with the connoisseurs and have mass appeal,” Josh Harris, co-founder of The Bon Vivants, a San Francisco-based company that consults for liquor brands, said by phone Feb. 28. “What they are doing is phenomenal.”
Garavoglia controls 60 percent of Milan-based Alicros SpA, a family holding company, according to Italian regulatory filings. Alicros owns 51 percent of Davide Campari-Milano, the documents show. She inherited the stake from her late husband, Domenico Garavoglia, a Campari executive who received it from the company’s last living heir in 1982.
Two of Garavoglia’s three children -- Campari chairman Luca Garavoglia, 44, and Alessandra Garavoglia Forloni -- split a fortune valued at more than $900 million. Chiara Bressani, head of group communications at Campari, said the family declined to comment on their net worth and does not grant interviews.
Campari traces its roots to Novara, a city 34 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of Milan, where Gaspare Campari opened a cafe in 1860, according to the company’s website. He began developing his own drink concoctions, the most famous of which was the aperitif that eventually adorned the family name. Campari’s son, Davide, began selling the beverage, which was nicknamed Red Passion.
Domenico Garavoglia, who held a degree in industrial chemistry, joined the company in 1952. Nine years later, he was put in charge of the Red Passion recipe, which is still a closely-guarded secret, according to Campari’s website.
Angiola Maria Migliavacca, the last heir of the Campari family, retired and made Garavoglia managing director in 1976. The company passed to Garavoglia six years later as a reward for his loyalty. He died in 1992.
His son, Luca, became chairman in 1994. A year later, he bought the Italian soft drinks portfolio of Utrecht, Netherlands-based Royal Wessanen NV for 35 percent of Campari. The company sold shares in an initial public offering in 2001, leaving the family with 51 percent of the equity.
At the time, Garavoglia’s eldest daughter, Maddalena Garavoglia, accused her family in Milan civil court of forcing her out of the company. A judge sided with Maddalena in 2006, forcing her mother and two siblings to pay her 100 million euros.
The family has since diversified its holdings beyond Campari. Alicros acquired 50.4 percent of Trevisan Cometal SpA, a Verona, Italy-based aluminum engineering operation, for 95.5 million euros in 2007. The company went into bankruptcy two years later after failing to renegotiate its debt.
Alicros also owns real estate companies Immobiliere San Gottardo, Roma and Lubita, which are valued at about 56 million euros, according to the company’s annual report.
Campari bought an 8.9 percent stake in San Francisco-based Skyy Spirits LLC, the maker of Skyy Vodka, in 1998. It acquired another 50 percent of Skyy for $239 million about two years later, and another 30 percent for $156 million in 2005.
The company’s expansion into the U.S. continued with the 2009 purchase of the Wild Turkey brand of Kentucky bourbon for $575 million from from Paris-based Pernod Ricard SA. Campari Chief Executive Officer Bob Kunze-Concewitz said in August 2011 that the company will continue to make acquisitions to expand.
That month it spent $26 million to buy Sao Paolo-based Sagatiba Brasil, producer of a sugar-based spirit called cachaca, which used to make caipirinha cocktails. The company bought Lascelles DeMercado & Co., the Jamaican maker of Appleton rum, last September in a deal valued at $414.8 million.
Still, about a third of Compari’s sales are generated in Italy, where the economy, saddled with $2.6 trillion in debt, has contracted for 18 straight months. Italian political instability, after last week’s election ended in a four-way split, threatens to reignite concern about the deepening of its debt crisis.
Campari missed earnings estimates in November, which Kunze-Concewitz blamed on the country’s economic woes. Its annual sales growth has dropped to 4.8 percent from 15.3 percent in 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
More analysts are bearish on the stock than bullish. Six analysts have a buy rating on Campari, and 16 analysts have hold or sell ratings, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The average 12-month target price for the company by those 22 analysts is 5.79 euros, 3.75 percent lower than yesterday’s closing price in Milan.
“The company has made many deals in the past decade, with the portfolio now increasingly complex and containing too many brands that don’t have strong growth profiles,” said Samar Chand, an analyst at Barclays in London in a telephone interview. He downgraded the stock to an ‘Underweight’ in November “Apart from Wild Turkey, nothing else has sustainable traction.”
The Bloomberg Billionaires Index is a daily ranking of the world’s richest people. In calculating net worth, Bloomberg News strives to provide the most transparent calculations available. Each Bloomberg Billionaire profile contains a detailed analysis of how that person’s fortune is tallied.