Japan Tobacco Said to Approach Buyers for Drink Vending Business

Japan Tobacco Inc. is exploring a sale of its beverage vending-machine business that could fetch as much as 100 billion yen ($830 million), people familiar with the matter said.

Asia’s largest listed cigarette maker has approached potential buyers including Asahi Group Holdings Ltd. and several private-equity firms to gauge their interest before starting a formal auction process, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the information is private. It owns 71 percent of the unit, called Japan Beverage Holdings Inc.

Japan Tobacco is exploring the sale after saying in February it will exit its drinks business that makes flavored water and “Roots” canned coffee, which has been promoted by Hollywood stars including Brad Pitt. The company, which sells Camel and Winston cigarettes outside the U.S., will focus on expanding its tobacco businesses and invest in pharmaceuticals and processed foods.

Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd. is looking into whether to purchase Japan Tobacco’s vending-machine business, Takeshi Niinami, president of parent Suntory Holdings Ltd., said in February, adding he has left the decision to the subsidiary. Suntory already owns 12 percent of Japan Beverage, according to financial statements on the vending company’s website.

Kirin Holdings Co. may bid for the vending machine operator, the Nikkei newspaper reported earlier Tuesday, without citing anyone. Spokesmen for Japan Tobacco, Asahi Group, Kirin and Suntory Beverage declined to comment.

There are 2.5 million soft-drink vending machines in Japan, data from the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association show. Japan Beverage accounts for about 11 percent of the nationwide total, according to figures from its latest earnings report.