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Interview, Part 1: Pernod Ricard USA President And CEO Bryan Fry

March 31, 2014

Pernod Ricard USA has been a key player in the U.S. market’s whisk(e)y boom. Jameson, Pernod’s flagship Irish whiskey brand, has been one of the market’s strongest performers—in any spirits category—and The Glenlivet has solidified its lead of the thriving single malt Scotch segment. But like the blended Scotch category as a whole, Pernod-owned Chivas Regal hasn’t ridden the whisk(e)y wave, and it’s struggling to hold its ground in the U.S.

On the white spirits side, Absolut is enduring a similar fate, as the iconic vodka brand has ceded share to a number of upstart offerings. SND managing editor Peter Zwiebach sat down recently with Pernod Ricard USA president and CEO Bryan Fry to discuss some of the company’s biggest successes and its efforts on Absolut and Chivas Regal.

SND: Pernod Ricard’s biggest spirits brand, Absolut, continues to lose share in the U.S. Do you think it can again be a growth engine?

FRY: We’ve lost share, but we’ve actually been growing our value. We continue to take price, and we’re one of the few leading vodka brands to do so. We’ve also made a conscious decision not to be all things to all people. We don’t see Absolut as a brand that breaks Pinnacle’s back and also targets Ketel One and then hits Cîroc. We’ve experimented in new areas and new consumption occasions where possible. We have the strongest flavor portfolio anywhere, and we continue to build on that. We’ve done some great work in terms of local advocacy, working on our City series. And we’ve launched some other interesting innovations, like bringing vodka and sparkling wine together with Absolut Tune. The big one for us is the launch of Absolut Elyx ($50 a 1-liter bottle), which, we believe, is the ultimate expression of handcrafted, top-of-the-range vodka.

SND: In Scotch whisky, single malt, led by The Glenlivet, has been surging in the U.S. while blends like Chivas Regal have struggled. What’s your take on those diverging trends?

FRY: Blends and single malt are two very different animals, but both Chivas and The Glenlivet are delivering growth. (Chivas Regal’s sales were up by 2% in Pernod’s fiscal first half, while The Glenlivet’s rose by 14%.) Blended Scotch is still moving very well in the Hispanic market, and that’s where we put a lot of our focus with Chivas. We’re very involved with (leading Mexican rock band) Maná, which has strong relevance with that segment of our consumer base. And Chivas 18 grew by double-digits last year. Moving across to single malt, Glenlivet has long led the category in the U.S. market. It has always been anchored by The Glenlivet 12, and that shows no sign of changing. But we’re also now seeing increased interest in the higher marques—the 15-, 18- and 21-year-olds—as well as limited-release expressions.

SND: Even after years of impressive growth, Jameson keeps rising sharply in the U.S. market. How much upside is left?

FRY: When it comes to Irish whiskey, and more specifically Jameson, there’s so much talk of ‘when’s it going to be finished?’ When you compare Irish whiskey to other whiskies—Scotch, Bourbon, Canadian—it’s still quite small in this market. We believe strongly in the Irish category, and feel there’s no reason why it can’t be as big as those others. While Jameson has had good growth, it’s still very small compared to a brand like Jack Daniel’s. So we still have a long way to go.

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