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Interview, Part Two: Campari America Chairman Gerry Ruvo

December 26, 2013

In this second part of our interview with Gerry Ruvo, the Campari America chairman and CEO talks new products in whiskey and Tequila and touches on the solid growth occurring across Campari’s liqueurs stable as well as the opportunities for two new brands in the portfolio: Aperol aperitif and Bulldog gin.

SND: Wild Turkey Bourbon is enjoying a renaissance. How has its new ad campaign been received?

Ruvo: Wild Turkey’s #NeverTamed campaign launched a little more than a month ago, so we’re in the early stages, but distributors and retailers love the new direction and we’re seeing a fantastic response on social media. While we understand there are older stalwarts who love the Wild Turkey brand and we would never turn our backs on them, we know we need to reach Millennials that are graduating up the whiskey ladder, and we think Wild Turkey has the credentials to do it. It has the kind of brand story that matters to a Millennial, so we’re highlighting those qualities. Wild Turkey is seeing double-digit growth based on the strong resurgence of the iconic Bourbon and the continued surge of American Honey, which is still up double-digits despite a lot of new flavored whiskey competitors. This year, we stoked the fires by adding Wild Turkey Spiced—which is doing exceptionally well—and Wild Turkey Forgiven, our rye/Bourbon blend. Next year, you’ll see a special new offering from Wild Turkey honoring master distiller Jimmy Russell’s 60th anniversary with the company.

SND: How have Campari America’s Tequila brands progressed this year?

Ruvo: I see Tequila as a sleeping giant for not just our company but the entire industry. It will be a major focus within our growth strategy over the next five years. Our Espolon Tequila is up double-digits. Espolon has the right packaging, right price and right liquid, and it’s connected both on-premise and off-premise. Next year, we’ll launch an añejo that will round out the range. Meanwhile, Cabo Wabo has added Cabo Diablo, our coffee liqueur spiked with Tequila, which is bringing new interest to the franchise from a younger LDA consumer. It’s in limited distribution right now, but we’ll be adding many more markets in 2014 based on the strong response. Cabo Diablo demonstrates that there is still some exploration possible in terms of flavored Tequila products. I see the popularity of flavored whiskies spilling over into Tequila in the coming year.

SND: What’s driven the Campari brand’s accelerated growth in the U.S., and what are your plans for Aperol (which was up 57% to 22,000 cases last year, when it was still with Palm Bay)?

Ruvo: If you would have told most anyone in the industry that a 150-year-old Italian liqueur that was essentially flat in the U.S. since the 1970s was going to be one of the hottest brands of 2013, I think you would have been laughed out of the bar. However, here we are today seeing double-digit growth on Campari. I attribute it to two things: bartenders’ interest in classic cocktails and the maturing of the American palate. Moreover, Italian liqueurs overall are growing in popularity, and we have the best Italian liqueur portfolio in the U.S. with Campari, Cynar, Aperol and Frangelico. Aperol and Cynar are both seeing growth that’s nothing short of amazing. Promoting the Aperol Spritz will be our main focus there. It’s been the driving force behind Aperol’s surge in Europe, and we feel there’s just as much opportunity in the U.S. There’s now an increased interest in lower-alcohol cocktail options for those pre-dinner and celebratory occasions.

SND: What does the recently acquired Bulldog Gin bring to the portfolio?

Ruvo: I’ve said for years that we need a gin to round out our range. Many people may have said that was a little crazy given that the category has been rather stagnant for some time. But Bulldog arrives as we’re finally seeing growth in gin—specifically at the premium and super-premium levels. Bartenders are driving that trend with classic cocktails like the Negroni, featuring Campari, Cinzano Sweet Vermouth and premium gin. Bulldog fits into the mix perfectly.

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