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William Grant’s Jonathan Yusen On Future Growth Prospects

November 9, 2016

In the second part of our interview with Jonathan Yusen, William Grant & Sons’ president and managing director, North America identifies key growth opportunities among the company’s emerging brands.

SND: Drambuie liqueur (around 60,000 cases in the U.S.) is a relatively new addition to William Grant’s stable, and recently received a refresh. What is your strategy for raising Drambuie’s profile in the U.S.?

Yusen: Drambuie is a diamond in the rough. Since we acquired it, a community of bartenders and mixologists has emerged, who are being more creative with Drambuie than ever in its history. They’re taking it far beyond the Rusty Nail, which Drambuie is known for, and making a Drambuie Collins or a Drambuie Sidecar, and even more creative concoctions. People are not only discovering the brand, but also putting it on their cocktail lists. We’re accelerating our packaging work to bring back a lot of the cues from Drambuie’s very storied past, but also to reference all this new creativity. That new package is launching now and will be out in time for the holidays, and we look forward to seeing the industry’s response.

SND: After years of rapid progress, Sailor Jerry (around 720,000 cases) appears to have hit a speed bump. What’s the update?

Yusen: We haven’t seen the same level of growth in spiced rum that we have in other categories. The category is very competitive, with a significant amount of promotion coming from other brands at retail. But our focus remains very much on building the Sailor Jerry brand, by celebrating the legacy of Norman Collins as the father of old-school tattoo art. This year was our first year of a partnership with New York Fleet Week, where we highlighted Norman Collins’s heritage and his celebration of our service members. Sailor Jerry is seeing accelerated growth this year, but fighting against a very difficult category.

SND: How is your Reyka brand faring in the super-premium vodka segment?

Yusen: Reyka will exceed 100,000 cases this year in the U.S. It has grown by more than 25% annually since 2012. We continue to be enthusiastic about Reyka and, more broadly, about the overall vodka category, despite some of the challenges it has seen. Reyka benefits from the recent focus on craft spirits. The brand’s story extends to Iceland—not just the great culture, but also the glacial waters that we use to make Reyka. The liquid is absolutely paramount. We’re seeing renewed interest within the vodka category—both on- and off-premise—roughly around the price tier that Reyka plays in ($24), and among brands that have a great story to tell.

SND: Where else in the portfolio do you see key opportunities going into 2017?

Yusen: We continue to be thrilled with our partnership with Flor de Caña, a Nicaraguan estate rum and a brand that has thrived over the course of our relationship. We brought on Flor de Caña (in mid-2014) when it was at roughly 98,000 cases, and this year we will be near 140,000 cases. We’ve also seen a lot of enthusiasm around the mezcal category, and we have a brand called Montelobos that has been in high-end bars over the last several years. We anticipate greater success with that brand. Also, about a year ago, we took our Hudson whiskey brand from a very small 375-ml. bottle and—because bartenders and retailers were asking for it—launched a 750-ml. With the 750-ml., we’ve doubled Hudson’s business this year.


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