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Interview, Part 2: Suntory Holdings President Takeshi Niinami

May 30, 2019

In the second part of our interview, Suntory Holdings president Takeshi Niinami discusses the company’s approach to managing the Japanese whisky shortage, along with the opportunities ahead for its Scotch and gin brands, including Laphroaig, Bowmore, Sipsmith, and Roku.

SND: How are you managing the Japanese whisky shortage? Which labels in the portfolio are well supplied, and which are facing significant challenges meeting demand?

Niinami: We’re now producing a lot of liquid, but we need to age the whisky for 10-15 years on average, so our time horizon to be able to supply fairly well is still six or seven years out. We’re focused on building the portfolio of aged expressions. Taking a look at the market, we’ve decided we need more 12-year-old across the range, as well as 17-year-old Hibiki and 18-year-old Yamazaki. In the meantime, we’ve had success with things like Hibiki Japanese Harmony.

SND: How much potential do you see for Suntory’s Scotch whiskies? Is there room for significant global growth for the company in that category?

Niinami: Laphroaig still has plenty of potential. So we’ll look to increase it by doing more collaboration between Laphroaig and Yamazaki for example. We’ve sent blenders from Japan to Laphroaig and those teams are collaborating on how to approach the market to maximize sales. Along with Bowmore, Laphroaig is one of the key brands from Islay. We’ll continue to target fans of that peaty style of whisky.

SND: You’ve recently added to the gin portfolio with Sipsmith and Roku. How are those products faring?

Niinami: In gin, Roku has huge potential. It has been penetrating a number of global markets, including China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Europe, and it’s already the No.-2 super-premium gin in some markets. There’s still a huge difference between Roku and Hendrick’s, which is No.-1, but we want to close the gap. Roku will be a key player in that category. We’re suggesting it to be served with soda rather than tonic, because it already has flavor of its own from the Japanese botanicals, and tonic can obscure those flavors. Sipsmith was a great acquisition. It’s an authentic British gin, and a differentiated product. Sipsmith appeals to consumers looking for authenticity, while Roku—and Japanese gin in general—is more for those interested in innovative products. They probably overlap some in terms of millennial appeal.

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