Blackhawks Owner Rocky Wirtz to Merge His Alcohol Distribution Business With Rival

Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz is merging his beverage business with rival Charmer Sunbelt Group, combining two of the largest U.S. alcohol distributors to form a new company with $6 billion in annual revenue.

Charmer Sunbelt President Greg Baird will lead the new company, named Breakthru Beverage Group, as chief executive officer. Wirtz and Sunbelt Holding Inc. Chairman Charles Merinoff, who will be co-chairmen, said they will treat the new company as a 50-50 split.

Rocky Wirtz
Rocky Wirtz
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The merger continues a wave of consolidation in the alcoholic beverage industry. While the most notable deal in the works is Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s planned takeover of SABMiller Plc, Heineken NV also has recently taken control of joint ventures from spirits-maker Diageo Plc, and all three of the megabrewers have continued to buy or invest in smaller craft producers. The formation of Breakthru, which will operate in 16 U.S. states, will affect customers such as Diageo, Brown-Forman Corp, Bacardi Ltd. and Gallo Winery.

"We were competing and growing in this pond, and as we talked more and more we said, ’Boy, if we worked together we could probably grow a lot faster,’" Wirtz said in an interview.

Chicago-based Wirtz and New York-based Charmer Sunbelt have been family owned for four generations. Breakthru will work in three of the five major markets in the U.S. -- Chicago, New York, and Florida. The deal is expected to close in January.

Wirtz teamed up with Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s McLane trucking unit in 2013 to form a venture to sell wine, spirits and beer in Missouri.

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