The beverage business blog from Olly Wehring
If you would like to offer your comments, opinions, suggest topics or just have a good rant, please feel free to email: Olly Wehring.
The Skyy's the limit - London isn't
31 Oct 2006 16:51
Skyy has become the latest brand to launch a line of flavoured vodkas here in the UK. The premium vodka market is notoriously competitive, with a new brand aiming to meet demand for top-end vodkas seemingly launched every month.
Just-drinks attended the launch of the flavoured Skyy range in London last night, sceptical that the brand can succeed in a segment where Finlandia and especially Absolut is dominant.
However, during the course of the evening, our doubts were allayed first of all by the striking taste of Skyy’s flavours but also because of the plans for the brand throughout the UK.
Let’s face it, London’s backbars are overflowing with a whole range of self-proclaimed “super-premium” spirits, let alone vodka.
Brand owners should cast their eyes around the UK and witness the rise of exclusive bars in cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow and Edinburgh further afield.
On a per capita basis, Scotland has the highest level of vodka consumption in the UK. Skyy, which is distributed by the Stirling-based Fior Brands, seems to be in the best position to capitalise on that trend - and the burgeoning bar scene in Scottish cities.
Too many owners of premium vodkas seem blinded by the lights and think they must conquer the London bar scene to be a hit in the UK. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Moët & Chandon - pleasepleasepleaseplease
31 Oct 2006 16:13
As some of you may no doubt already know, I have a dreadful propensity to place-drop - as opposed to name-drop. I’ve asked my parents, and it’s not inherited, so I can blame no-one but myself for this habit.
This place-dropping might work forwards, I reckon. Surely, if I say where I want to go - or how I want to be taken there – often enough…?
Let’s see, shall we?
This evening (31 October), I am being taken, as a guest of the malt whisky folk at Diageo, to the International Wine & Spirit Competition awards banquet in London.
My wish, dear readers, is that I get whisked home afterwards by this - a one-off London black cab that has been tarted up with 200,000 Swarovski crystals to form an image of a Moët & Chandon bottle and champagne bubbles.
I’m told that the only way I’ll get a lift in this beauty is if I buy a limited edition Moët & Chandon crystallised Methuselah from either Harrods or Selfridges in London. But, surely by mentioning it often enough, my wish could come true?
Shall I repeat all this?
When is a vodka not a vodka?
30 Oct 2006 16:46
The EU made its presence felt on several fronts last week, proving its usual source of controversy. While many in the drinks industry bemoan the part played by the authorities at times, on the issue of the definition of vodka , it is clear that the EU is simply holding up a mirror to the producers.
Last week, agriculture ministers from member states across the EU could not agree on what should and should not constitute vodka. While countries such as Poland, Finland and Sweden want vodka protected as a traditional spirit made only from grain or potatoes, there are others out there who feel that anything can be used to make vodka, so long as it tastes like, you’ve guessed it, vodka.
The argument is about heritage - traditional vodka-producing countries have a strong affinity for the product and believe they are the home of the spirit. As the planet becomes a smaller place, they argue, where you come from is an anchor in an ever-changing world.
The problem is, however, that the taste of vodka is pretty easy to recreate; the vast majority of consumers would not be able to tell the difference between vodkas made from a variety of raw ingredients. Indeed, at the meeting, the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, offered to set up a blind tasting for Council members.
Where this will end is tough to guess - probably with a compromise. But trading on what something is made of, or even where it came from, is proving harder and harder in the 21st century.
The just-drinks soft drink campaign starts here - join us
24 Oct 2006 15:16
Here at just-drinks, we are not ones for campaign-style journalism. Give us a lead on a good story, and we’ll deliver the facts for you. But generally, we believe it’s up to the industry to take the lead on the issues it faces - not that I am backward at coming forward with my own opinion as those that have read this column will know.
However, a piece by our soft drinks reporter, Annette Farr, this month got me thinking that, perhaps, there are issues we ought to support more vocally. Of course, I suggest you read the whole piece for yourselves but, to summarise, Annette is calling for the European soft drinks industry to show a united front and launch a single exhibition that would cover all aspects of the industry under one roof.
Three years into this job now, and it still amazes me there isn’t a show that represents the interests of everything soft drinks, from packaging and vending to marketing and innovation.
As Annette points out, the soft drinks industry has spawned the world’s No. 1 brand. Soft drinks outsell all other FMCG categories across Europe. And, soft drink manufacturers are pioneers when it comes to innovation and new product development. Surely, the industry deserves its very own showcase?
So, we would like to hear what you have to say about this. Is this idea worth pursuing? Do you in the industry feel you are already well serviced by the existing, fragmented network of shows? In short, can someone - and should someone - host a show of this nature?
Is Ashes fever getting to the Aussies?
20 Oct 2006 18:10
Interesting to see the Australians squabbling among themselves ahead of next month’s Ashes series.
Alas, it’s not Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath bickering over who should bowl from which end, but the country’s two biggest brewers arguing over so-called “ambush marketing” surrounding the Ashes, world cricket’s longest and deepest rivalry.
Last week, Foster’s Group, which is a major sponsor of the national association Cricket Australia, accused arch-rival Lion Nathan of “ambush marketing” with its own sponsorship of a nationwide beach cricket tournament.
A Foster’s executive even went as far as labelling Lion’s behaviour as “un-Australian”.
Both Foster’s and Lion have tried to downplay the row. A Foster’s spokesman told just-drinks the spat was “a storm in a teacup” while his counterpart at Lion said he didn’t want to “fuel the issue further” by commenting.
Leaving aside the unlikelihood of Australian beer drinkers confusing beach cricket with the Ashes and Foster’s apparent over-sensitivity on the issue, as unashamed Englishmen we at just-drinks have allowed ourselves a wry smile at the bickering between our Australian cousins. Not because we see it as a sign of Australian nerves ahead of the English holders of the Ashes defending the little urn Down Under, but because, deep down, we’re a tad worried the Aussies are going to win it back.
Beer guru up for grabs - honest
20 Oct 2006 09:41
Greetings from Ukraine. While I’ve been embargoed by my hosts, InBev, for the duration of my jaunt around Russia and Ukraine, I managed to get clearance for this – my postcard from the country, where I have donned the new moniker ‘Dr. Beer’.
For all you other brewers in the region, you’ll be delighted to hear that my rates are most competitive…
Around the world without leaving London
13 Oct 2006 21:40
Well, I’ve had a hell of a week this week - it’s been non-stop and it’s only now, late on Friday night, that I’ve found the time to bore you with my adventures.
Monday evening found me down at Vintners’ Hall in London, for the annual lecture held by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. Guest speaker this year was Christopher Carson, the former CEO of Constellation Europe and current chair of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. Carson always makes for good comment, and this time was no exception as he warned the alcohol drinks industry of the dangers of not working together to deal with social responsibility. The alternative to dealing with the situation ourselves, Carson warned, was pretty unpalatable. Heavy-handed government legislation, akin to the type meted out to the tobacco industry, could make things very unpleasant, he said. “We are in their sights,” he warned. “As an industry, we have to get on the front foot and take the message to the people.”
No let-up on Tuesday, with a quick visit to the South African wine tasting at Lord’s cricket ground. A most civilised chat followed, sitting in front of the Nursery Ground with Gary Greenfield, MD of Distell Europe. While Greenfield conceded that the part played by Constellation’s Kumala wine brand may be overshadowing the South African wine sector in the UK market, he remains determined to bring what he called “a little bit of heritage” to the South African offering abroad.
A hop, skip and a jump to south London for a cider tasting in the evening held by the Chevallier Guild brothers, the driving force behind Aspall apple juice and cider makers. Not knocking the cider, but I found the apple juice to be somewhat addictive - it actually tasted of apple. A charming evening with pleasant company ensued. Barry Chevalier Guild would not badmouth Magners for their stranglehold on the UK cider market of late, choosing instead to praise them highly for reintroducing cider to the masses - what he referred to as “the Magners effect”. The fight starts now, however, he warned. “They’ve given us a great opportunity,” he said. “Now it’s up to us to shout about what we actually do.” Cider’s days as the drink of tramps, wurzels and students were over, he laughed, and Magners played a huge part in that.
Wednesday was a relative day of rest, before Thursday exploded in my lap. To the Russian embassy in the morning to collect my visa-minted passport: I’m off to Moscow and then Kiev on Sunday with InBev. Having been to Russia before, I’m prepared for the queuing although the embassy was a dull reminder.
Then to Fleet Street for Diageo’s Asia and China seminar. On paper, the six-hour marathon looked like it would be a struggle, but the opportunity to meet and quiz the likes of Stuart Fletcher (president of Diageo International), John Pollaers (MD for Asia) and Ken Macpherson (MD for Greater China) was too good an opportunity to miss. Macpherson’s view of China bursting with possibility is one close to my heart. On leaving Beijing in 2003 after working there for four months, my then boss said: “If you ever get the chance to come back, then do, ‘cos this place is set to explode.” By the sound of Macpherson’s presentation, that explosion has started.
Wonder if the paymasters would let me work from Beijing…
Battle in Brazil - global brewers on the prowl?
09 Oct 2006 14:33
As I approach my third anniversary here at just-drinks, I am reminded by an analyst of one area I wrote heaps about during my first few months in the job.
Some of you may remember, in 2003, when the Brazilian beer industry provided interesting reading. The country’s second-largest brewer, Schincariol, stole a march on market leader AmBev almost overnight, with a marketing push that succeeded in eating away at AmBev’s dominance. With hindsight, AmBev concedes that it was “arrogant” and “slow” at the time.
In a note to clients today (9 October), industry analyst Bear Stearns is warning that a new battle is brewing in the South American country. This time, it looks like Kaiser, which Molson Coors sold to FEMSA at the beginning of this year, who is going to give AmBev a run for its money. The unit is poised to launch its own advertising blitz, which may lead to another round of market share grabbing.
While Kaiser has its work cut out, AmBev could take quite a body blow if the campaign proves effective. If the global brewers get wind of the preparedness of Brazil’s beer drinkers to chop and change, then what’s not to stop them paying the country a long, possibly permanent visit?
We’ll keep a close eye on how the situation pans out. But, for now, in the words of Bear Stearns: “Let's Get Ready to Rumble.”
Pilsner Urquell - a good time had by all, but how much??
06 Oct 2006 16:39
Back into London on Wednesday evening, at the request of SABMiller’s Pilsner Urquell. The beer is the subject of a GBP2m promotional push in the UK, also announced last week.
The swanky do, held at the very smart Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens, included DJs, Czech sentry guards and canapés created by renowned chef Albert Roux.
We also got the chance to try pouring our own beer (sounds easy, eh? You’d think!), and a super goody bag to take away, including two Pilsner Urquell-branded glasses in a presentation box.
I’ve a worrying feeling, however, that most of the GBP2m went on just the one night…
Playing swap-sies with Foster's boss
05 Oct 2006 14:34
Into London yesterday, to meet the Foster’s Group CEO Trevor O’Hoy for the first time.
Despite being quietly-spoken, O’Hoy was certainly not backward at coming forward, and fielded all questions with a straight bat. Most noticeable was his response to my query about whether Foster’s would look to change its name in the future. After all, having sold the rights to the Foster’s beer brand in several markets recently, is the name not a little redundant nowadays?
“The name Foster’s gets us access to people like you (I’m hoping he means journalists) and also to shareholders,” he said. “Foster’s as a name is actually bigger than it really is – it’s very well-known. We see it as a net positive at the moment. You’ve got to have something to hang on to!”
When I asked him what potential names he’d consider, he smiled: “What’s Diageo backwards?”
“Actually, just-drinks is quite an apt name,” he added, glancing at my name badge. “I’ll swap you ‘just-drinks’ for our brewing interests in Vietnam, if you like!”
I would, Trevor, but the commute would probably kill me.