just the answer - Ketel One

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Back in February last year, the owners of the Ketel One vodka brand, the Netherlands-based Nolet family, announced a tie-up for the brand with Diageo. The deal not only signaled the end of Diageo's interest in the race to acquire Vin & Sprit's Absolut, but also gave the Nolets a helping hand with its premium vodka brand. Last week, Michelle Russell met with Bob Nolet, the vice president of Nolet Distillery and 11th generation family member.

just-drinks: What was the reason behind your decision to partner with Diageo?

Bob Nolet: Ivan Menezes, the president and CEO of Diageo North America, approached us and gave us the idea. He didn't talk about money because he knew we weren't interested in that but he talked about Ketel One, about the void in the portfolio of Diageo, and working to come together as a partner, to join the strength of Diageo with the family-run business of Ketel One.

It took us a year to come to the conclusion of what we actually wanted out of the partnership on paper. We did our homework and we did it very well because we are very happy with the partnership and we see that Diageo feels the same.

So, there was a big win for Diageo and the big win for us is the strength of distribution around the globe. Of course, the US is the most important market for us at this moment but we'd like to expand in more countries.

j-d: How are you finding the partnership? It must be a very different way of working for you now having joined with such a large business as Diageo?

BN: Before the deal, we had looked at Diageo as a big competitor. But, when we entered into the partnership, I found that Diageo has incredibly good people, incredibly skilled people and people that really knew what they're doing.

j-d: Do you worry that the family heritage of Ketel One might be diluted by partnering with such a major company like Diageo?

BN: No, not at all because it's a 50/50 and so we will always have 50% of whatever we do and that's for eternity. So no, because I know that Paul Walsh believes in brands with heritage, and it starts with him believing in that. So, all Diageo products should have heritage, or at least a story that's true and not a made up marketing story that you see out there a lot.

Bob Nolet, vice president of Nolet Distillery

j-d: Can you explain the ownership structure and who looks after what in the new partnership?

BN: The Nolet family, we own the rights to the brand, we own the distillery, we produce Ketel One and we sell it worldwide from our office in Amsterdam. In Ketel One Worldwide, we have placed the sales and marketing rights for Ketel One and Diageo has taken 50% of that.

j-d: What is your opinion on some of the extension opportunities available to a brand like Ketel One?

BN: I don't believe in limited editions. It's a nice consumer image maker but I don't really believe in them that much. You have to have a really good reason to do it, beyond taking a bottle and putting it in a box. We've never done it up to now because we've never found the right reason to charge more than needed. We're not a vodka status, we're genuine, so always, everything we do has to be genuine. So taking a crystal bottle and putting the same product in it - what's really genuine about that?

j-d: What about flavour extensions?

BN: We will be coming out next year with one flavour. We're not a brand that will have ten different flavours. We believe we should bring one, because it's an incredible product and consumers are wanting it. I cannot reveal what flavour it is but at some point next year there will be a new flavour.

j-d: How do you see the brand developing over time with the new partnership?

BN: Because of Diageo and their financial plans, we're interested in every day doing the right thing for the brand and then everything else will follow. But we will be growing over time and we will be going over the 2m-case barrier. That's what we are aiming for and if you do the right thing it will come, even with prices. We are perfectly positioned, we are not overly expensive. We are expensive but not to the ridiculous amounts that some are asking. So we are the right choice for a lot of people at this moment.

Sectors: Spirits

Companies: Diageo, Absolut

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