Japan's Suntory in talks to buy Lucozade, Ribena drink brands

A man walks past a Suntory beverage vending machine in Tokyo on June 24, 2013. Suntory Beverage & Food, which raised about US$3.9 billion in an initial public offering in July, is hoping to strengthen its soft drink business in Europe and North A
A man walks past a Suntory beverage vending machine in Tokyo on June 24, 2013. Suntory Beverage & Food, which raised about US$3.9 billion in an initial public offering in July, is hoping to strengthen its soft drink business in Europe and North America with the purchase of the GSK brands, the Nikkei said. -- FILE PHOTO : REUTERS  

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese drinks giant Suntory Holdings is in advanced talks to buy the Lucozade and Ribena soft drinks brands for a possible US$1.56 billion (S$2 billion) from British drugs firm GlaxoSmithKline, a report said on Friday.

Japan's leading Nikkei business daily said its Suntory Beverage & Food unit has emerged as a "major candidate" to buy the two brands.

A source in London told AFP on Thursday the two sides were discussing the move, after GSK in April confirmed plans to sell the Lucozade energy drink and Ribena fruit juice as part of plans to restructure its European operations.

Analysts said a sale net the British firm a total of £1.0 billion (S$1.28 billion).

Suntory, one of Japan's biggest brewers and non-alcoholic drinks makers, has embarked on a string of overseas acquisitions in recent years to offset a shrinking domestic market.

Suntory Beverage & Food, which raised about US$3.9 billion in an initial public offering in July, is hoping to strengthen its soft drink business in Europe and North America with the purchase of the GSK brands, the Nikkei said.

A Suntory spokesman declined to confirm the report, saying: "We have no comment as no decision has been made."

Suntory said last year it would form a joint venture with Chinese brewer Tsingtao to expand its reach in China, the world's biggest beer market.

It has also said it will buy a 51-percent stake in Indian food and drink maker Narang Group and set up a joint venture. In 2009 it bought Europe's Orangina Schweppes Group for about US$3.3 billion.