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Interview: Simon Hunt of William Grant & Sons

January 8, 2013

Last year was another strong one for William Grant & Sons USA, with its brands showing double-digit growth across the portfolio. SND recently caught up with Simon Hunt, president and managing director-North America at William Grant & Sons, to get a recap of 2012 and a look at what’s ahead for 2013.

SND: How did William Grant & Sons USA fare in the fourth quarter?

Hunt: William Grant & Sons USA is thriving. Our core owned brands—including Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, Hendrick’s Gin, Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey and Sailor Jerry rum—are all showing sustained double-digit growth. That’s particularly impressive considering that we’ve continued to premiumize the portfolio.

SND: How will the loss of the Stolichnaya agency impact your business?

Hunt: Stolichnaya is an iconic brand, and we’re proud of the work we’ve done with SPI. But we’re a very different company than we were four years ago when we took on Stoli. We’ve since doubled in size and tripled volumes of our core brands, while also increasing prices. With our current scale and momentum, we can focus on accelerating growth of our core brands, nurturing our innovation brands and identifying and working with partners who share our long-term outlook.

SND: What can we expect from William Grant USA as 2013 unfolds?

Hunt: First and foremost, we continue to represent the Stoli brand through 2013. While the growth of our owned brands has been fantastic, the opportunity to bring new consumers into our portfolio remains significant. We want to build on our momentum. We’re targeting double-digit growth on our core brands for 2013, and we’re investing more behind them than ever. We’ll also build the Innovation brands like Monkey Shoulder, Solerno, Art In The Age, Hudson Whiskey and our owned vodka brand, Reyka.

SND: How is progress for those brands?

Hunt: Our Innovation portfolio is focused on seeding the next Hendrick’s. Monkey Shoulder, in limited release, had people flying into launch states just to try it. Hudson is up 54% over last year, and Art In The Age is up 38%. We see them all as future core brands. We have a passion for brand-nurturing. Hendrick’s, a darling of the mixology community, is a perfect example of that, having ignited the gin category and grown by more than 30% in the past year. And one of our most exciting opportunities in 2013 is Reyka vodka, up 34% in the past year and going strong.

SND: How are Glenfiddich and The Balvenie positioned to capitalize on the boom in single malt sales?

Hunt: Glenfiddich and The Balvenie were up 12% and 17% in 2012, respectively, and we’re well positioned to drive that further. Consumers are seeking different finishes and age statements, and we’re uniquely positioned to provide them. Look at the range of offerings we’ve released over the past few years—whether the Cask of Dreams, Snow Phoenix, or the 55-year-old Janet Sheed Roberts Reserve. The Balvenie offers more esoteric variants, such as the 14-year-old Caribbean Cask finish.

SND: What are the plans for Tullamore Dew in 2013?

Hunt: We acquired Tullamore Dew in 2010 and have seen strong double-digit growth since then. It’s a wonderful brand that frankly was not getting its due. We updated its packaging, honoring Daniel E. Williams as the namesake. We welcomed fans to our new visitors center, and we’re bringing the brand home to Tullamore with the building of a new $50 million-plus distillery there. We developed a global campaign called Irish True, to bring to life the Irish sense of the poetic and rebellious. Tullamore Dew was up 20% over the past year, and I don’t see signs of that slowing any time soon.


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