Bols chief energizing officer Huub van Doorne

Bols' chief energizing officer Huub van Doorne

Founded in 1575, Bols claims to be the oldest spirits brand in the world. After a rocky recent past, the company is back in Dutch hands. just-drinks caught up with Lucas Bols' self-styled “chief energizing officer” Huub van Doorne to talk about the company's plans, the launch of its new yoghurt liqueur and why the brand is big in Japan.

just-drinks: What's the structure of the company now? 

Huub van Doorne: After I acquired the company in 2006 (from Remy Cointreau), with the help of a private equity firm, AAC Capital Partners, we moved it back from France. That's the time we started here (Amsterdam), from scratch, in this building  - the House of Bols. I was looking for a new inspirational office, where everything would come together. The brand Bols had lost a bit of its glory and here we wanted to bring and combine the House of Bols, the mirror bar, Bols bartending academy, because that's what we believe in. 

j-d: How many people work for Bols?  

HvD: We have 45 people. I have a CFO, a commercial team of people who are travelling the world, and then the master distiller and his team. Then we have a marketing director with a small team. 

j-d: How has the company performed financially over the last year? 

HvD: Our (annual) revenue is a little over EUR100m (US$124.2m), we sell a little over 3m cases. The Bols brands are growing by 5% to 6% per year.

j-d: Are all your brands in growth? 

HvD: The local Dutch brands are stable to slightly declining. 

j-d: Why is that? 

HvD: With the growth of international spirits, you see many local products declining. 

j-d: How are exports markets performing for you? 

HvD: About 70% of our sales are exports. The biggest export brand is the Bols range. The key markets for us are the US, Japan and Argentina is very big. Germany is very important, as are the UK and upcoming markets like Russia and China. 

J-d: What's number one for you? 

Japan. It's been a success story. We are one of the few international brands growing in Japan. Our growth has been double-digit over the last four to five years. The tsunami stopped the growth, but that has come back again. 

j-d: What do you attribute this growth in Japan to? 

HvD: A combination of factors. We are distributed by Asahi  – they believe in spirits and they cover many on-trade outlets. There is a trend over the last ten years of smaller on-premises opening – this has developed a lot. Female consumption has grown a lot in Japan and there's been a lot of innovation in flavours. 

j-d: How have you performed in China? 

HvD: China last year was great, up 30%. We are the number two liqueur (Bailey's is number one), but it's a small segment in China. 

j-d: You have just launched Bols Yoghurt liqueur in the UK. Why now? 

HvD: We are convinced it's a great innovation and a really unique product. Everybody says they have innovation, but this has never been in the market. The beauty of it is it's mixable, it's easy to drink pure, or you can mix with any fruit you want. It's an exciting proposition. 

We have discussed it with Maxxium and we thought this might be something big, so said let's go for it. The first country for a launch was China, then Germany, then Holland, now the UK. 

j-d: Where do you see areas of opportunity for the business? 

HvD: Over the last five years, we have put the seeds in the ground on a global basis and what I see now is the acceleration of the cocktail culture. We are at the forefront, we are innovative, we bring new things to the market. We are very much in touch with the bartenders, not only in theory but with our World Championships as well. We have had 1,500 bartenders from 56 countries participating – the nice thing is the brand is bringing all this energy together.

Our other big ambition is the resurgence of Genever. We have done the groundwork in the UK on Genever and we will also focus on the US and Russia.