This month we talk to Simon Fay, international brand development director for Irish Distillers

This month we talk to Simon Fay, international brand development director for Irish Distillers

This month's just the Answer sees Michelle Russell talk to the international brand development director for Irish Distillers, Simon Fay.

just-drinks: Pernod Ricard delivered a strong set of results in the first quarter of 2011. Jameson in particular, performed well. What was the main driver behind this?

Simon Fay: If we focus on this financial year, the US, Russia and travel retail will be the lion's share. South Africa is also doing very well. I would say that the US is the main driver of that growth and also Russia - two very different markets at two very different stages of development. Russia has broken through an MAT of 223,000 cases and growing rapidly.

j-d: Jameson is doing well off the back of a relatively small base in the US. How much room is there in the US to grow further?

SF: There is tonnes of scope and opportunity still. It is a big spirits market. If you look at Texas, for example, one of our competitors is (Diageo's Canadian whisky brand) Crown Royal, which sells around 600,000 to 700,000 nine-litre cases [annually]: Jameson is selling around 42,000. We have a great opportunity to take some share there, and there is no reason why we couldn't be up to 100,000 cases.

The next milestone we are setting for ourselves will be 3m cases in the course of our four-year plan, which will get us to 2015.

j-d: Earlier this year you had to increase capacity for the brand. Why did you get the projections wrong?

SF: We don't have a choice if we are to reach our milestones by 2020. It's not that we were incorrect. We could see what was coming, so we have to project as we look towards 2020: We need to structure ourselves to reach that capacity. We have no issue at the moment, but we need to continue to plan ahead. It's a super problem to have.

j-d: Jameson is miles ahead of everyone else in the Irish whiskey category. How easy is it to get lethargic without a strong competitor?

SF: Not at all. Look at the brands that are around; you've got William Grant with Tullamore Dew. They're proven brand-builders. They've got a great product and there's no reason why they can't expand and grow much further. Bushmills is a brand I've managed here. I know that it's a quality product, I know that Diageo are a big strong company, so they can turn it on if they want to. But I certainly keep a very close eye on Tullamore Dew and Bushmills. I'm also watching Makers Mark, Jack Daniels, Crown Royal and then brands like Captain Morgan. Within Irish whiskey, even though you might have 71% of the category, you cannot be complacent because these are good products.

Simon Fay, international brand development director for Irish Distillers

j-d: Do you see Cognac and/or Scotch as a competitor for Irish whiskey?

SF: Not so much Cognac, but Scotch certainly, in many of our emerging markets as well. If you look at Scotch in Brazil and Mexico, it is very relevant, and in Asia it is incredibly relevant. So, we constantly have to be watching the Scotch brands. I think Johnnie Walker is a super brand and they do a great job.

j-d:How do you think Irish whiskey should go about stealing share from Scotch then in these markets?

SF: It's very difficult. They're bigger brands, they've got more spend. Our approach to the emerging markets like Brazil, Mexico, potentially Vietnam and China, is doing the right thing by the brand at a grass roots level. It's not necessarily that we've capitalised those brands in those markets with a huge A&P spend; we haven't, because the brands are still quite small. In Brazil, we're at 2,500 cases and the Johnnie Walker franchise is at 1m, so the scale is completely different.

But, we'll keep chipping away in those markets that have rapid growth in the premium or standard premium Scotch whiskey segment.

j-d: You re-launched Redbreast and Greenspot in April. How much of that came about because Irish Distiller's had to change the term 'pure pot still' Irish whiskey to 'single pot still' Irish whiskey?

SD: Nothing to do with it. It was just a packaging upgrade and a refocus on the single pot still whiskeys from Midleton. It was a refocus on our behalf to expose more people to that type of whiskey from Midleton.

j-d: How important is provenance to Jameson?

SD: Here in the US, it has relevance. In markets like South Africa and Russia, it doesn't really. People may know that it's an Irish brand and they may associate aspects of Ireland back onto the brand ... but it's not the factor that draws them in. If you look at California, it's our number one market, but I think 50% of that state is now Hispanic.

We certainly punch above our weight in the US and there are so many people who claim Irish heritage here that I think it helps. Going into some of the other markets in Europe, it has a relevance ... there is an understanding. In the emerging markets and Southern and Eastern Europe, 'Irishness' is maybe known but I don't think it's as relevant. But, Irishness is absolutely rooted in the brand, the personality of the brand, and the people who represent it.

j-d: What do you think William Grants' purchase of Tullamore Dew will do for the Irish whiskey category?

SD: I think William Grant are good brand builders and if I was them I'd  be looking at Jameson in the US and think, "we should give them a go, take them on". I suspect they have plans for the next ten or 20 years to grow that brand and to take some share, so I really would watch Tullamore Dew ... . They've got potential for the future, which I think is good for Irish whiskey because I think it gets more people exposed to the total category. Hopefully the rising tide will help everybody.

j-d: In five/ten years time, where is Jamesons' main growth likely to come from?

SD: The US, Russia, Mexico, South Africa ... markets like the Ukraine. I hope also Vietnam, China and India. We are doing a lot of work in Bangalore at the moment, and in Delhi. We've got two guys based there and they are working with the local team in India. It will take a number of years but that's where growth is coming from.