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Interview, Part 2: Diageo North America President Debra Crew

March 16, 2021

In the second part of our interview, Diageo North America president Debra Crew discusses recent innovations, the company’s acquisition of Aviation Gin, and her view on the emerging cannabis category.

SND: What does Diageo’s U.S. innovation pipeline look like currently?

Crew: In the first half we launched really strong innovation against our biggest brands and the trends toward convenience and at-home consumption. You’ll have seen Baileys Apple Pie and Baileys Deliciously Light, for example, which is off to a great start, and we’ve also launched ready-to-drink cocktails across some of our largest brands, like Crown Royal, Tanqueray and Ketel One. We’ve got a strong innovation pipeline in the second half as well that meets changing consumer behavior, leaning into the trends we’re seeing with home consumption, digital and e-commerce. And we’re going to do that while also helping the on-premise recover through the second half.

SND: Last year, Diageo acquired Davos Brands, including Aviation Gin and a number of other brands, for up to $610 million. How are Aviation’s growth prospects, and which other offerings in the Davos range have potential for expansion?

Crew: Our relationship is off to a great start. The Davos team is still very much with us—you don’t fix what isn’t broken. Ryan Reynolds continues to deliver great support and marketing ideas behind Aviation. The brand is continuing to gain share any way you measure it, whether it’s within total spirits, gin, or super-premium gin. There are other little Davos jewels in there, like Astral Tequila and Sombra Mezcal. So we see a lot of potential for the future. We’re definitely continuing to look for growth brands in the right categories.

SND: How has Diageo’s U.S. beer business performed lately, and what are your ambitions for that segment moving forward?

Crew: It was challenging particularly at the beginning of the pandemic, because Guinness is definitely an on-premise brand. So we pivoted from what was a very large business on-premise to at-home, and a lot of consumers are discovering for the first time that you can get great Guinness at home. You may have seen the campaign we did recently with Notre Dame and Joe Montana, and we’re set to launch Guinness Nitro coffee, which should be in stores soon.

SND: Cannabis continues to gain steam as an adult-use category in the U.S., but its impact on beverage alcohol remains undetermined. What are your thoughts about this new consumer segment?

Crew: Clearly that’s an area we continue to watch. As far as the potential impact on the business, there’s conflicting data as to whether it would have a positive or negative effect on alcohol. That means that we’re neutral on the issue of legislation—it’s really for the states and ultimately the federal government to decide. But we do believe that where it’s legalized, it should be regulated at least as strictly as alcohol is.

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