Friday 28 October 2016

The Brexit blues: just one reason why Scotch whisky giant does its marketing from Dublin

The Scottish spirits manufacturer William Grant & Sons has ambitious growth plans, as Caspar MacRae tells John McGee

John McGee

Published 14/08/2016 | 02:30

Caspar MacRae, global brand director of William Grant & Sons. Photo: David Conachy
Caspar MacRae, global brand director of William Grant & Sons. Photo: David Conachy

While Ireland has become used to hosting US multinationals and their EMEA headquarters, it's unusual for a company to locate its global marketing hub in Dublin - especially UK ones.

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In the post-Brexit limbo-land that we now find ourselves in, however, it should be pointed out that the company in question - William Grant & Sons - is Scottish, and many Scottish companies feel the result of the recent Brexit referendum was not what they had wished for.

Founded in 1887 in Scotland, the company is an independent family-owned distiller with nearly 2,000 employees globally and estimated revenues in the region of £1bn in 2015.

Now run by the fifth generation of the Grant family, the company owns a stable of well-known spirit brands that includes Glenfiddich, Grant's, Hendrick's, Drambuie - and of course Tullamore Dew, the second biggest selling Irish whiskey brand in the world after Jameson.

The company acquired the Tullamore Dew brand in 2010 when it bought C&C's spirit business for €300m. It subsequently invested €35m in a new distillery which opened in 2014.

Selling into 180 markets across the globe, Dublin is home to the company's global marketing teams for Hendrick's Gin, Tullamore Dew, Sailor Jerry and several other brands.

"I think the company initially looked to Dublin as a way to expand its international perspective. We are an export-orientated firm, and Dublin's dynamic and international talent pool complemented that of the London office," says Caspar MacRae, global brand director for Irish and American whiskeys.

With nearly 130 years of history behind it, the company still sees itself as being in growth mode.

"While William Grant is growing, we don't yet see ourselves as large. We are still an entrepreneurial, family-owned business, where individuals feel they can make a difference. With the brands that we have, we think there is lots of opportunity for future growth," says MacRae. "That said, there are always going to be challenges. In the short-term, the emerging BRIC markets [of Brazil, Russia, India and China] have not recently enjoyed the growth the industry expected, though that has affected William Grant less than many of our competitors," he adds.

As with many food and drink companies headquartered in the UK and Ireland, Brexit will be one of their stiffest challenges. For Scottish companies, most of which want to remain within the EU, the prospect of Brexit is a bitter pill to swallow.

"Brexit seems to be an example of increasingly protectionist political rhetoric and that creates unwelcome uncertainty for export-orientated businesses," says MacRae.

"In the short- to medium-term we are expecting business as normal and will not do anything differently than we are doing today. However, in the longer term we continue to monitor and evaluate the situation - and we will be working closely with our partners both at the Irish and Scotch Whisky Associations to understand the longer term implications for our industry," he says.

"Overall we remain very confident. We have great brands, which operate in high growth categories and are well placed to meet long-term consumer needs for premiumisation, authenticity and quality," he says.

"Premiumisation is an enduring trend," he adds. "Consumers want to mark and celebrate their progress by indulging in brands that are a little more special. That could mean trading up from a blend to Glenfiddich, or for someone in India or Kenya it might mean trading up from a local spirit to a globally recognised Scotch like Clan MacGregor," he says.

"Overall, Scotch remains the biggest whisky category - and by some margin - but sales have dipped over the last couple of years. I think that creates an impetus for marketers and whisky makers to become more creative, and now you have brands, like Monkey Shoulder, showing Scotch can be great without being sedate, serious or stuffy."

The global market for Irish whiskey, meanwhile, is also growing significantly and this poses all kinds of opportunities for the likes of Tullamore and indeed the many craft distillers around the country.

"The Scotch whisky category is still 12 times larger than the Irish. That means that there is lots of opportunity, but it also means there is a huge amount of work to be done if we are going to develop the reputation and recognition for quality and innovation that will ensure Irish whiskey's long-term success.

"I think the scale of our investment in Ireland and in the new Tullamore Distillery gives evidence to our ambitious growth plans for the brand. Right now we think there is a great opportunity in the US, and there is still plenty of room to grow in Europe.

"However, longer-term we are excited by the opportunity for Africa, Latin America, India and potentially Asia. Personally, I hope that we can help more people discover Tullamore Dew here in Ireland, where the history and quality of the brand is still relatively unknown," he concludes.

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