Irish Distillers’ boss hails performance, but has pause in Russia – its second-largest market – hit the brand?
Jameson whiskey sold over 10 million cases in the 12 months to the end of March, a new record, with the chief executive of brand owner Irish Distillers saying it had entered the “top tier” of global spirits.
Details of the new record for Jameson sales were revealed by Alexandre Ricard, CEO of Pernod Ricard, which owns Irish Distillers, during the alcohol giant’s recent capital markets day.
Speaking with the Sunday Independent, Conor McQuaid, the outgoing CEO of Irish Distillers, said sales of over 10 million cases was a “huge milestone”.
“The psychology of the number is one thing, but if we cast back in time to when Pernod Ricard purchased Irish Distillers the [Jameson] brand sold about 466,000 cases in 1988,” he said.
“We had a 2020 milestone to sell nine million cases by 2020, and we missed it by a number of months – all Covid related. So, to go through very quickly and get the 10 million case milestone is a huge achievement.
“What rocks me on my heels when I say that number out loud is the fact that, at an international level, there are only three other whiskies that are bigger than us in the world, between Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels,” he added.
“It puts Jameson into that top tier. It is at the top table of global spirits brands, and that is a terrific achievement for a brand that was small and has had a huge 30-year growth trajectory.”
McQuaid said that Jameson now had a 2030 target to hit 15 million cases.
Pernod Ricard decided to pause sales to Russia – Jameson’s second-largest market – in the aftermath of the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
McQuaid said Irish Distillers’ sales had performed well despite the Russia pause, thanks to its strong performance in other markets.
Jameson had experienced strong growth in markets across Africa, including Nigeria and South Africa. McQuaid hoped Jameson would exceed sales of one million cases in Africa this year.
“The dynamism elsewhere has more than made up for the slowdown and the pause of sales in the Russian context over the last number of months.
“It hasn’t necessarily had as negative an impact on the numbers as we see them at the moment.”
McQuaid said Irish Distillers constantly reviewed its decisions surrounding future growth.
“One of the question marks in our mind, all that’s happened through Covid, all those changes in consumer dynamics… has reflected itself in really strong growth.
“How sustainable and where that goes to next is an open question – the perennial question for every distiller when you look forward to laying down stocks today. We are constantly reviewing it.”
On the supply chain, McQuaid said there had been delays with longer shipments, particularly to the east and west coast of the US.
“We went from transit times of an average of about six weeks from Dublin to wherever it needed to get to, to something approaching three months.
“That was a pressure point,” he added. “It put a lot of extra pressure on the team here to bottle and to bottle quickly against timeframes that were getting ever longer.”
Last week, Irish Distillers announced it will invest €50m in its Midleton Distillery in Co Cork over the next four years in an effort to deliver a carbon-neutral operation by the end of 2026.
McQuaid said he was excited about the carbon-neutral plans for Irish Distillers. The plan had taken around 10 years of work to get to the point of announcing it, he said.
“We wouldn’t have said it out loud and as publicly as we did if we didn’t have the belief that we can get there. It is a big undertaking, but it is ambitious, challenging and exciting at the same time.”
McQuaid, who joined Irish Distillers in 1998, is to leave his current role to take up a position in Paris as Pernod Ricard’s new executive vice president of corporate communication, sustainability and responsibility and public affairs.
He is being replaced by Nodjame Fouad, who currently holds the position of president and CEO of Pernod Ricard Japan.