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Interview: Jonathan Yusen On William Grant & Sons’ Super-Premium Success

November 7, 2016

William Grant & Sons has enjoyed consistent double-digit growth in the U.S. market in recent years, thanks in part to the upscale, craft-like positioning of its spirits portfolio. Standout brands include Glenfiddich single malt Scotch, Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey, Milagro Tequila and Hendrick’s gin, all of which showed combined growth of nearly 150,000 cases in the U.S. market last year, according to Impact Databank. SND associate editor Christina Jelski recently caught up with Jonathan Yusen, William Grant & Sons’ president and managing director for North America, to discuss the portfolio and plans for the coming year.

SND: How are William Grant & Sons’ whiskies performing?

Yusen: Glenfiddich’s growth is running at about 13% annually. Much of the excitement last year was around our 14-year Bourbon Barrel Reserve, which will exceed 20,000 cases this year, and this year we’ve recently launched our Glenfiddich IPA Finish. Meanwhile, Tullamore Dew will surpass 200,000 cases this year. Irish whiskey has evolved from being a one-brand story into a full category, and Tullamore Dew is now in the second spot in the U.S. market. When we acquired it in 2010, Tullamore Dew was at 64,000 cases and needed a complete refresh—new packaging, new positioning and recommitment to the liquid. We invested in all that, and we’re now seeing the results. Elsewhere in the portfolio, Monkey Shoulder (a blended malt Scotch whisky) is a recent success. It’s on pace to surpass 50,000 cases next year, and it’s in high demand. We focus on Monkey Shoulder’s versatility. It makes exceptional cocktails. We’re looking to ignite the on-trade in a Scotch category that, frankly, has been better known for retail consumption. In doing that, we’re bringing new consumers into the category.

SND: How is Hendrick’s (+20% to 294,000 cases last year) achieving such solid progress in a gin category that’s long been struggling?

Yusen: Hundreds of new competitors have emerged in the premium and super-premium gin category, so it’s now highly competitive. That’s been driven by the craft movement and the resurgence of the high-end gin segment, and Hendrick’s has played a large role there. Our focus is around the brand’s quirky and unusual branding, but it’s more about ensuring that people are familiar with the quality and uniqueness of the liquid. For 2016, we’ve continued to see growth that’s similar to the trends of recent years.

SND: Milagro (+20% to 190,000 cases last year) has emerged as one of the fastest-growing Tequila brands in the U.S. What’s propelling it?

Yusen: Milagro benefits from playing at a few different price points. We operate in premium Tequila with the core brand, and also in ultra-premium Tequila with Milagro Select Barrel Reserve. We’ve seen consumers drawn to both directions of the price spectrum. Our Reposado is seeing exceptional growth in 2016, indicating that consumers and the trade are becoming more educated about the Tequila category, just as has occurred with brown spirits.

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