PARIS, July 11 (Reuters) - Pernod Ricard has spent almost $100 million to gain majority control of Avion Spirits LLC, owner of top-of-the-range tequila brand Avion, as part of plans to expand in the United States, its largest market, the French firm said on Friday.
Under the deal, the world's second-biggest spirits group behind Britain's Diageo, raised its stake in Avion Spirits to 84 percent, a Pernod Ricard spokeswoman told Reuters when asked about a transaction announced earlier in the day.
The deal follows a joint venture established in 2011 when Pernod bought an initial stake of around 20 percent in the venture.
Ultra-premium Avion, which can sell for up to $150 a bottle, joins the super-premium Olmeca Altos brand in the French drinks group's tequila portfolio.
The acquisition also follows the April purchase by Pernod Ricard of Sonoma Valley, California-based premium wine maker Kenwood Vineyards for less than $100 million.
Since its last major acquisition - the purchase of Swedish group Vin & Sprit, owner of Absolut Vodka, in 2008 for 5.7 billion euros - Pernod has focused on cutting debt, ruling out large transforming deals to focus on small tactical purchases.
Net debt was 8.6 billion euros at the end of 2013, giving a net debt to earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) ratio of 3.6 times against 6.2 times after the Vin & Sprit deal. (Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Brian Love and Mark Potter)