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Interview: Jim Clerkin, President And CEO, Moët Hennessy North America

December 3, 2015

With the pivotal holiday selling period now upon us, wine and spirits marketers are looking to make the most of every opportunity. Always among the most prominent players at this time of year is luxury titan Moët Hennessy—with U.S. volume of 4.9 million cases, according to Impact Databank—whose upscale stable is heavily geared toward celebratory and gifting occasions. Veteran drinks executive Jim Clerkin has helmed the French company’s U.S. business since 2010, and added Canada and Mexico to his purview on November 1, taking the title of president and CEO, Moët Hennessy North America. SND senior editor Daniel Marsteller recently met with Clerkin to discuss the holiday outlook.

SND: Your flagship Hennessy brand is firing on all cylinders, rising nearly 20% in the U.S. over the past three years to more than 2.5 million cases. How will you leverage that momentum through the holidays?

Clerkin: Hennessy is having a record year, on the back of a very strong four-year period. Consumers are not necessarily drinking more, but they’re drinking better, and that suits our portfolio. More and more we’re seeing gifting—and special packaging—play a bigger role on super-premium brands like Hennessy. We’re making an effort to ensure our unique packages are getting good visual display in our off-premise accounts, and it looks like this is going to be one of the most successful gifting seasons we’ve had in a long time.

SND: The holidays are also of course a key period for Champagne, with category sales about twice as high in December as in the average month. How is your bubbly range faring?

Clerkin: As the leader of the Champagne category in the U.S. with over two-thirds market share, the Moët Hennessy portfolio of Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug, Ruinart and Dom Perignon is well positioned to succeed. The momentum generated so far in 2015 will be bolstered by gift offerings that we’re launching at a variety of price points. They reflect not only the inherent quality and savoir-faire of the individual brands, but also the creativity and innovation that we’re constantly looking to cultivate.

SND: You recently launched a brand new Sonoma wine franchise, Smoke Tree, with a Pinot Noir ($25) and Chardonnay ($20). If those wines do well, could you foresee extending the brand with other varietals or price points?

Clerkin: The ambition shouldn’t stop with Smoke Tree’s two entry-level wines. If we achieve what we hope with those we could see expanding into more of the super-premium levels of Pinot Noir.

SND: What trends are you seeing in the on-premise market currently?

Clerkin: We’re getting back to a period where the on-premise is doing really well again. The hotels are full, as are the restaurants in major cities. That augurs very well for the premium and super-premium brands in our portfolio looking ahead.

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