Nick Fink, Beam Suntorys Asia-Pacific & South America president

Nick Fink, Beam Suntory's Asia-Pacific & South America president

Spirits firm Beam is now under the control of Japan's Suntory Holdings after a US$16bn takeover earlier this year. So how will this new marriage work in some key global markets? just-drinks' deputy editor, James Wilmore, caught up with Beam Suntory's Asia-Pacific & South America president, Nick Fink, to find out.

just-drinks: How does the takeover by Suntory affect your role going forward? 

Nick Fink: I'm going to continue in my role. One change is that Japan will no longer report into me. That’s quite understandable, as that's where the Suntory business is based. Japan will become the fourth standalone unit of Beam Suntory.

j-d: Are there any conflicts between the Beam and Suntory brands? 

NF: I actually think it’s a fantastically complimentary portfolio. The key whisk(e)y category is Bourbon, but the Japanese (whisky) portfolio is also second to none. Australia is very exciting for us, it’s one of the key strategic markets for the Suntory whisky brands. Suntory was already in Australia - there was a little bit of presence of Yamazaki, but now we'll have Yamazaki, Hibiki and Hakushu, all three of them in the market.

j-d: Will Beam's deal with Coca-Cola Amatil (in Australia) be affected?  

NF: All our relationships with Coca-Cola Amatil will continue as they are for the time being. We have a long-term distribution deal with Coca-Cola and it’s been very effective. 

j-d: In your last set of full-year results, sales slipped 9% in your region. Are you disappointed? 

NF: Yes, it would be hard not to be disappointed by that result. It was a combination of a number of events. We’re more exposed to the emerging markets, they go up and they go down. Last year, we saw a slowdown in China, in Brazil and even in India - and at the same time the market in Australia also slowed down. 

In China, where our business is principally around Cognac and Bourbon, there’s been a shift in consumption patterns with the anti-extravagance measures. It’s slowed considerably. But, we’re still optimistic about China in the long-run; there’s huge potential there. Over time, it will re-align and return to growth.

j-d: How about your business in India? 

NF: We've had an investigation (over allegations of financial misconduct) but it's in its final stages and our business is running well. It continues to be a very exciting market for us because of the macroecomic conditions, when combined with the position we have in Scotch. 

j-d: Have you been excited about the opportunity in Brazil from the World Cup?  

NF: We are excited about it, it’s an opportunity to get out and enjoy the moment. We’ve seen the market slow down this year. But, if you look at that nexus between emerging market growth and whisky, which is an aspirational category, there’s a real sweet spot and a nice postion from which to grow.

We’ve launched Teacher’s first TV campaign in Brazil and, with the return to growth of the whisk(e)y segment (in Brazil), there’s hope for the market.

j-d: How significant do you see the opportunity for Sauza 901 with the Justin Timberlake connection

NF: Justin Timberlake will be performing in Sydney at the end of the year, which will be a great chance to activate Sauza 901 (in Australia). Tequila is not a huge category in the country, but it performs quite nicely and there is potential to premiumise it.

j-d: How about Skinnygirl? How's it playing in your markets? 

NF: In Australia, it's got to a certain scale and level of acceptance. We believe there is a significant opportunity in health & wellness and the good-for you category, we think there's an opportunity to put a little drive and energy behind that brand, but I don't want to go into further details on some of the plans.

j-d: Which of your markets are you particularly excited about? 

NF: Australia will continue to be very valuable for us in spirits. It's been challenging, but will continue to premiumise as the interest grows in premium products. India is very exciting and so is Brazil. In China, the opportunity is undeniable. And, in Vietnam, we've seen absolutely rapid growth from a population that wants to learn more. We're seeing some real interest in brands like Knob Creek and Morrison Bowmore, we're getting some nice traction there, but it's early stages. 

j-d: Any markets that keep you awake at night? 

NF: Well, Australia has gone through a rough patch, but there are incredibly promising consumer trends in the country. It's a fundamentally strong market.

Expert analysis

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