A new dedicated sales force and new product development will drive long-term growth for Beam Global Spirits & Wine, according to Bruce Carbonari, CEO of the Beam parent firm Fortune Brands.

Carbonari, speaking at this week's Consumer Analyst Conference in New York, highlighted Beam's work over the last six months to build a sales force dedicated specifically to its brands.

"In the last six months, we have gone from 8% of our sales that were controlled by our own sales organisations to now over 71%," said Carbonari.

"We think this is critical because we are able to make faster decisions, have better focus and be able to align better with distribution partners and be able to organise in a fashion that we believe is more responsive to markets."

He said that Beam, which makes up 60% of Fortune's annual income and includes brands such as Jim Beam, Sauza Tequila and Maker's Mark, now has sales teams dedicated to open states, control states, national accounts and high-end on-premise, in addition to teams in different regions. An extra $30m will be invested in routes to market in 2009.

Beam Global's 2008 revenue fell 4.8% to US$2.48bn, damaged by a 16% sales slide in the fourth quarter, Fortune announced last month. Operating income for Beam fell by 29% to US$543.7m for the year.

Speaking specifically on Beam's portfolio, Carbonari told this week's conference that the group would focus on Jim Beam and Hornitos premium Tequila in the US.

He said that organic growth, rather than acquisitions, is the group's "number one priority".

He added that Beam intends to make further use of its revamped new product development unit, which he said had previously been "non-existent". The group plans to launch a cherry-infused version of Jim Beam in the US later this year.