Beam Suntorys EMEA head, Albert Baladi, is conscious of handling the Africa opportunity in the right way

Beam Suntory's EMEA head, Albert Baladi, is conscious of handling the Africa opportunity in the right way

In the second part of just-drinks' interview with Beam Suntory's Europe, Middle East & Africa head, Albert Baladi talks about the company's gin presence, the Africa opportunity and the Travel Retail landscape.

One category where Beam Suntory lacks an eye-catching global presence is gin. The segment's on-going revival, particularly in the UK, must make it attractive to any serious player. That said, the group does own  Larios, Spain's best-selling gin by volume.

“Larios is a brand with incredible history,” Baladi explains. “We turned it around 18 months ago, we changed the packaging and the label. We've re-positioned it as the pre-eminent Mediterranean gin. We're aiming to hit 100,000 cases (for Larios) in Spain this year, which all of a sudden gives the brand a big scale.”

Baladi even suggests there could be opportunities for Larios outside of Spain, “particularly in Travel Retail”, he says. The UK could also be a target. “With all the tourists that come to Spain, they enjoy gin that is different to what they experience back home,” he says. “We haven't launched it in the UK yet, but it's something we can start seeking this year.”

As Baladi has highlighted, the company is very diligent on ensuring its resources are used in the right areas - and there are plenty of other, perhaps easier, more lucrative prizes on offer; not least, Africa. “Historically, we have not focussed that much on Africa,” says Baladi. “We are very selective about which countries we go after. It's less about speed, more about quality.”

Nevertheless, in South Africa, with its large Cognac market, Beam Suntory's sales are up “strong double digits”, driven by the performance of Courvoisier.

Elsewhere on the continent, the group is making other significant moves. Late last year, it appointed a head of marketing for Africa, based out of Johannesburg. Baladi pinpoints the area of focus. “Nigeria is the big one, it's the next one for us to open up,” he says, adding that a Beam Suntory team are in Lagos, as we speak, talking to prospective new distributors, specifically for Jim Beam.

The company also has a “good presence” in Angola, Ghana and Equatorial Guinea, which will offer future opportunities, Baladi believes. But again, he cautions: “We are very keen on doing business the right way (in Africa) and making sure our entire supply chain is compliant. Being able to find a distributor that clears goods the right way, it's a big deal for us."

The final piece in Baladi's jigsaw is Travel Retail, and it's becoming an increasingly large piece. Fuelled by the ongoing rise in global travel and consumers' desires for something special before they fly, the channel is a vibrant battleground for spirits producers.

“Travellers have more time now and use those visits to bring back something that they can't buy at home,” says Baladi. “It's a growing sector, but it is also consolidating, so it really requires its own bespoke solutions.” The channel's growth has also meant the rate of “limited edition” launches in duty free shows no sign of letting up. Baladi admits: “Exclusive travel retail offers resonate well with our customers and consumers.”

Clearly, he must get plenty of chances to check the pulse of this channel on travels around his vast patch. As the clock ticks down, Baladi reveals plans to visit Japan (not part of his remit) for a second time since the Suntory deal was done: A prospect he is clearly relishing. “The first time was to see the beautiful Yamazaki distillery in Kyoto and next week we are seeing Hakushu (distillery),” he says, smiling. 

Now, that sounds like a trip to the parents that anyone would enjoy.

For part one of this interview, click here.