Seagram Company, Ltd., while known as a Canadian distiller of spirits, has a history of colossal growth, diversification, and eventual failure as a single entity. Founded in Montreal, Canada by Joseph E. Seagram and partners, Seagram took over sole ownership by 1883 as Joseph E. Seagram & Sons. Following Joseph’s death in 1919, the Bronfmans of Distillers Corporation acquired all the stock of the by-now publicly traded Seagram Company, retaining the Seagram name.
Sales were booming due in part to prohibition in the United States. Seagram’s would ship to French Miquelon and Saint Pierre, and the goods eventually found their way to New York speak-easies and bootleggers in the USA. Canadian whiskey remained very popular in the US after prohibition – especially Crown Royal, Chivas Regal, Seven Crown, and VO. Many say that “V O” stands for “very own”. Seagram had the distinction of excelling in aging and blending its spirits.
Investing the Profits
By the 1950s, a holding company, Cemp Investments, represented the children of now-deceased Samuel Bronfman as owner of the company. The company achieved phenomenal success, resulting in large cash liquidity. In 1981, the Seagrams began diversifying, acquiring substantial stakes or entire control of such behemoths as Conoco, MGM, and DuPont. At Seagram’s peak, they later bought Tropicana, MCA, owner of Universal Studios, Polygram, and Deutsche Grammophon.
Chopped Up and Sold Off
The year 2000 saw the beginning of splintering of the company. Edgar Bronfman sold the entertainment components of Seagram to Vivendi. Several new owners obtained branding and distilling rights to various spirits being made at Seagram. Piece by piece, the growing number of heirs and their divorces resulted in cash requirements that were ultimately satisfied by the sale of more Seagram assets. The company literally dissolved piecemeal.
Seagram’s was sold off in pieces due to a combination of factors, including financial difficulties, strategic missteps, and changing market conditions.
One of the main reasons for Seagram’s sale was its acquisition of MCA Inc. in 1990 for $3.08 billion. The acquisition was intended to help Seagram’s expand its entertainment business, but it ultimately proved to be a costly mistake. MCA Inc. struggled financially, and Seagram’s had to invest heavily in the company to keep it afloat. By the time Seagram’s sold MCA Inc. to Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. in 1995 for $6.6 billion, the company had already incurred significant debt.
Another factor was Seagram’s declining market share in the alcoholic beverages industry. Seagram’s had long been a dominant player in the industry, but it began to struggle in the 1990s as consumers shifted away from its core products, such as whiskey and gin, and towards other types of alcohol, such as vodka and wine. Seagram’s was slow to adapt to these changes, and its market share declined as a result.
Finally, Seagram’s was also facing financial pressures due to its heavy investment in its entertainment business. The company had poured billions of dollars into acquiring and building up its entertainment assets, such as Universal Studios, but it was not generating enough revenue to justify these investments.
Given these challenges, Seagram’s was sold off in pieces to various buyers in order to raise cash and pay down its debt. The various companies that Seagram’s owned were sold off or spun off, and the Seagram’s brand itself eventually disappeared from the market.
- Year Started: 1857
- Year Ended: 2000
- Origin Of Name: Founder’s name
- Location Sales: Worldwide
- Brand Name Predecessor: Waterloo Distillery
- Brand Name Successor: Many
- Owner Original: Seagram family until going public in 1926
- Owner While In Use: Bronfmans’ Distillers Corp. in 1928, which became publicly traded
- Owner Successor: Many, including Diageo, which still makes Seagram Crown Royal
- Year Resurrected: Name use has been continuous
- What’s Popular Today: Jack Daniels
- Naics Code: 312140
- Location Headquarters: Montreal, Quebec, Canada