Iglesias previously worked in brown spirits

Iglesias previously worked in brown spirits

JC Iglesias took over as brand director of Pernod Ricard's gin brand, Beefeater and Plymouth, in August this year after a switch from marketing the company's brown spirits portfolio in the US. In his first interview since taking on his new role, he tells just-drinks why he wants to take gin to a completely new market, what a wider Beefeater portfolio could do and that there really is a gin boom going on out there. 

just-drinks: How have your first two months been? Are you up to speed?

JC: It's a process. It takes time. I was in Spain for the first two weeks, which is our single biggest market. I was in the US, Russia and spent time with the UK business. So the first month was about digesting. And now it's really about saying, right, this is where we are. We've done some really good things. The business has been consistently growing. How will we accelerate it? Where will we find pockets of opportunity?

j-d: How's the new Beefeater Burrough's Reserve (launched this year) coming along?

JC: Burrough's is something that we think is pushing the envelope of what gin is, asking the question, does gin have to be a completely clear spirit? We only just launched in New York, so it's just picking up, but we there are markets that we didn't even intend to launch in that are begging for it. In the UK, the whisky shop is selling it.

One interesting thing about it is it has a finite life as its rested in Jean de Lillet oak casks. I can only get so many Jean de Lillet casks. After that, I'm done. Then we'll make something else

j-d: How long does it have left?

JC: There's enough for a couple of years, unless demand goes through the roof. If demand goes through the roof, I'm out. It almost forces us to be creative. The same as a whisky maker has to be. In a couple of years there will still be a Burroughs reserve, but release II might be in a different wine cask, with totally different properties.

j-d: What markets are doing well overall?

JC: Greece. I've got to get out there and talk to them because their business is doing really well. Like Spain, last I checked they are not having a great time but God bless them for just saying, whatever, fine, gin and tonic please.

j-d: So two of your biggest markets are not, economically, having the best of times. Does that worry you?

JC: There's nothing we can do about that. We continue to cultivate the rest of the world, we don't put all of our eggs in that basket. I'm happy to have it, to be as strong as we are where the category is as well developed as it is.

The markets I find interesting are the ones where the category hardly exists but we might be able to go in there and lead the category, and you bank on a long-term future. What if you could create a category where it doesn't exist - and own it? Get first mover advantage, how would you do it?

(Pernod vodka brand) Absolut went to South Korea. there was no vodka category in Korea, but if you look up the numbers now it's flying. And there are no competitors.

j-d: Where could you do the same with gin?

JC: That's what we're trying to figure out. Give me a bit of time. It's still early days

j-d: What kind of time scale? 15 years?

JC: I'm not that patient.

j-d: Would you like to have a wider range for the Beefeater brand?

JC: Absolutely. For us as a company, that's the real future and strength. In the most developed markets you create an even broader array of product and you sometimes even add brands. Plymouth Gin for us is a fantastic story. It has grown in the US almost despite us, because the truth is we have never invested much in Plymouth in the US. We have changed the packaging, we have taken the price up and it still grows.

j-d: Why was Plymouth neglected in the past?

JC: In the past we had to address a number of issues. The previous owners made changes to the packaging and played around with the pricing. So it took us a few years to figure out - how do we bring the product back to where it was? Here in the UK it was priced about 25% cheaper than it should have been. No longer. It's in the right place now. 

j-d: So what has happened to the gin boom? The spirit hasn't quite gone stellar yet.

JC: Around 65% of my business is in a handful of markets, so when I see double-digit growth in a lot of those emerging markets, it is enough of a reassurance that there is a boom in places. The category numbers don't show that there is a boom at an aggregate level. The gin boom is in super premium, but then super premium is about 8% of the total category. (The boom) is happening. You just have to look at it at a more granular level.

Where's the growth? Well, it comes out of those smaller markets. Spain is growing at 2%, the US at 2-3% and everyone else is growing at 10%. If you give it five years, then it'll look entirely different.

j-d: So there is a gin slow-burn rather than a boom?

JC: Well, there's a boom in certain markets, but up until now it has been so lopsided that its been hidden in the details. I wouldn't call it a global boom. Yes, Spain is a slow-burn, except when you look at the super premium and it's 30%. You look in the US, premium gin has 1% growth and below it's declining. Super premium gin is double-digit growth. So the boom is in super premium, but it's not universal.