The Wehring Interview - Beam Global Spirits & Wine

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The third of this year's Wehring interviews keeps up the high profiles, if I do say so myself. Speaking via telephone, we have Matt Shattock, CEO of the soon-to-be stand-alone Beam Global Spirits & Wine.


The sun is over the yard-arm here in the UK, on a sunny Friday afternoon. As thoughts turn to the weekend, over in the US, however, the day has just begun. While we Brits switch to demob mode, in Illinois, home to Beam Global Spirits & Wine and from where CEO Matt Shattock is talking to me, there's still a working day to navigate.

Shattock could be forgiven, though, for buying into the UK state of mind this afternoon; for two reasons. Firstly, he's an ex-pat Brit living in the US: “If you could send me some Branston Pickle and a bar of my beloved Dairy Milk,” he pleads, “that'd be great”. Secondly, as CEO of Beam Global, he has been lined up to continue as CEO of the spirits division when it becomes the sole business of parent company Fortune Brands later this year.

It's Friday afternoon in his homeland, and his job is guaranteed ahead of a demerger. What other reasons are needed to start a party?

“This is a very exciting moment for us,” he tells me. Not, I'll wager, because it's a Friday afternoon. “The prospect of becoming a standalone pure-play spirits company … for us, it's a huge vote of confidence.”

The announcement by Fortune late last year that it is spinning off two of its three divisions came as a surprise to many. Shattock, however, believes that such a move wasn't actually that much of a surprise. “If you listen to what Fortune Brands had said,” he notes, “there has obviously been a long-term strategy for it to continually review its portfolio and decide how to maximise shareholder value. Clearly, at the point at which they felt that these businesses would be better managed separately is the point that they made that decision. I think the timing of these things is always subject to lots of factors, but I think in the long run that was a very exciting opportunity.”

At the time, speculation had suggested that Bill Ackmann, a shareholder who had built up an 11% stake in Fortune, had been pushing the company in the direction of a break-up. Shattock, sadly, isn't going to go there. “That's something you would have to ask (Fortune's CEO) Bruce Carbonari,” he says. “I can tell you that this was very much a decision made by the Fortune Brands board – it was a reflection of their strategic process and their thinking over a number of years. I am absolutely confident that what you've read in the press is true; this was their decision made very much on their own terms.”

The rumour-mill lurched in a different direction, however, once the demerger was announced. Market tittle-tattle then moved on to ponder who would move to buy Beam Global once it loses its golf and home balast. These whispers must get tiresome after a while for someone in Shattock's position, I suggest. “I think speculation is a way of life in this industry,” he sighs. “Since I joined Beam Global almost two years ago, there's been some form of speculation every week, I think. I'm getting used to that being a dynamic of our industry.

Matt Shattock, CEO of Beam Global Spirits & Wine

“We're very clear, and there is absolutely no change: Our board of directors believe it is in the best interests of our shareholders to have Beam become a standalone spirits company. That's very much what we're on course to do. Our job now is to make sure we manage the assets that will be at the centre of that business and to maximise their value for our shareholders.”

A transaction in the same week as our 'phone call serves as further indication that Beam Global is not merely biding its time until it becomes the subject of an auction process. In late-March, the unit bought Skinnygirl, owner of the namesake ready-to-serve margarita brand in the US.

“We have observed trends towards premiumisation, towards more healthful drinks and towards convenience (in the US),” says Shattock. “So, we're quite excited about this brand, and we can bring leverage to it. We have a very strong position in the Tequila market in the US, so we have a very good fit there. This is a good example of an acquisition that is right for this market, and we seized upon it.”

And yet, while purchases remain an option for Beam Global, it is not where Shattock sees the unit targeting its efforts. “At the moment,” he says, “our focus is on growing our organic business. We have plenty enough on our plate to work with.”

That plate is split into three clear categories, according to Shattock. First up are the “power brands” of Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Sauza, Courvoisier, Canadian Club and Teacher's. Each sells over 1m cases and has a “good international footprint”. Then, there are the “rising star brands” of Knob Creek, Hornitos, Cruzan and Effen. “These have strong growth potential and we're investing in them for the long-term,” he explains. Finally, there are the “local jewels”, made up of brands such as DYC whisky and Larios gin in Spain, and the De Kuypers cordial brand in the US.

“Our key focus in the medium-term is to grow the assets we've got,” he continues. “We think there's a lot of opportunity for us going forward organically and to build this into a very strong standalone spirits business.”

'Bullish' is an over-used word in our industry, but I'll wager it's how Shattock would prefer his view on Beam Global's future to be described. “We believe we have a bright and long future as a standalone pure-play spirits company,” he says. “We think we've got the right strategy, the right assets and the right people to be a long-term player.

“We're going to play a very long game here,” he warns.

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