Comment – Spirits – Pernod Ricard and the Scotch Markets of Tomorrow
As we head back from Pernod Ricard's Capital Markets Day, held this year in Scotland, it takes a fair bit of effort to see past the company's upbeat take on the future for its Scotch whisky portfolio. A morning of scene-setting, market drill-downs and 'any questions' with the firm's top brass yesterday (30 May) suggests that there's gold in them there hills, and Pernod has just the right type of drilling equipment.
Yet, I can't help but feel an element of an opportunity missed yesterday.
On Tuesday, Pernod conducted the same presentation to the analyst community. Apparently, their main point of concern, amidst Pernod's upbeat talk of high single-digit/low double-digit sales growth forecasts, was the firm's stock situation. Indeed, during their Q&A session, the question: “How much Scotch have you got?” was asked eight different ways by the analysts.
As Christian Porta, CEO of Pernod's Chivas Brothers Scotch division told me yesterday, that very question is the one blank spot in analyst coverage of the French group – and Pernod is perfectly okay about that. “Because of the commercial sensitivity surrounding stock levels,” Porta said, “that's one piece of information they can ask about all day, if they like.” He assured me, however, that the company would not be naïve enough to issue sales forecasts without factoring its ability to slake the thirsts for Scotch in its markets.
And so, to the markets.
After a presentation from Gavin Hewitt, chief executive of the Scotch Whisky Association trade association, in which the Scotch scene around the world was set, Pernod wheeled out three market chiefs to tell us of the potential they can see in their respective countries. Naturally, all three also posited that Pernod is best placed to make hay when the sun shines. First up, Cesar Giron presented on France, the world's largest market for Scotch. Next up was Horace Ngai, deputy MD of Pernod's China operations, and sealing the deal was Eric Laborde, who shone the spotlight on Russia.
That these three markets are targets for Pernod when to comes to growth is, well, all a bit obvious, isn't it? After all, one of just-drinks' Twitter followers berated me yesterday for tweeting that Pernod has high hopes for China.
CEO Pierre Pringuet said in his moments at the lectern that Latin America and Africa are also considered growth drivers for Scotch in the coming years. That no-one was present to discuss markets like Brazil or Nigeria, for example, suggests to me that Pernod is content to fish where the fish are and not venture too deeply into uncharted waters just yet.
Sure, it's a minor criticism, and one that several analysts mentioned to me only in passing (after they'd vented about “the stock thing”), but Pernod's claims that China could provide the headlines for Scotch whisky in the next decade or two?
Well, I could probably have told you that.
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