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Interview, Part 1: Paul Basford, President and Managing Director, U.S., William Grant & Sons

November 30, 2021

Earlier this year, William Grant & Sons appointed Paul Basford as president and managing director of its U.S. business, which has annual volume of 3 million cases, according to Impact Databank. Basford’s career includes general management, business development, and commercial roles, initially with Diageo in the U.K. and then in the U.S. and Australia with Britvic Soft Drinks. Prior to taking the helm of William Grant’s U.S. business in May, he was general manager of Danone’s North American waters organization. SND executive editor Daniel Marsteller recently spoke with Basford to get the latest on developments across the William Grant & Sons portfolio as the holiday season kicks off.

SND: What’s your view on the U.S. spirits market overall as we head into the holiday season?

Basford: There are obviously supply chain challenges, but the market is particularly healthy. We’re seeing a lot of the key cities coming back and the Big Apple being one of them in a very progressive way, which is great. The on-premise is starting to really crank a bit more now than it’s done in recent months, and there are a lot of trends in the on-premise that suit our brands. One of them is premiumization. The whole way the market has premiumized across the last couple of years, with people buying better, buying higher, buying quality, really plays into our portfolio. So the impact of premiumization, the return of the on-premise, and the general health in spirits, give us great cause for optimism.

SND: How have William Grant’s two key single malt brands, Glenfiddich and Balvenie, performed in the U.S. so far this year, and how is their outlook for the holidays and beyond?

Basford: It’s been a tough year in the context of shipping product around the world, but these are both allocated brands and they’re performing very, very strongly in terms of their trajectory. We continue to invest. We have a Balvenie program out now with Questlove called Quest for Craft, which features guests like Patti Smith, Malcolm Gladwell, and Michael Che discussing how they approach life and their craft. We’ve invested heavily behind that, and we have a great Glenfiddich campaign coming as well. Glenfiddich continues to become more luxury oriented. The 18-year-old and above is becoming a really significant part of the portfolio and will continue to get a very strong push. We’ve managed to be as agile as we can around supply, to make sure we have product in the right place at the right time. And the (now lifted) tariffs on single malts have not put consumers off either, even though they hiked prices on malts initially. We’re delighted with the growth as we orient the brand more toward the higher end with whiskies like Glenfiddich Grand Cru and Grande Couronne.

SND: Monkey Shoulder blended malt continues to develop at a rapid pace. What’s driving that growth in the U.S.?

Basford: Monkey Shoulder has been a hero brand for us. It’s got fabulous liquid, which is ultimately the strength of our company, it’s got a very distinctive bottle, and the price point is accessible. So it’s got that unique trifecta, and it has captured the imagination of the bartender fraternity. It’s done well off-premise too; don’t get me wrong. But I think that with the on-premise overlay that’s now coming back we’ll start to see it go to another level. It was sky high pre-Covid in the on-premise, and we’re looking forward to picking that back up as we move forward. It’s an accessible version of Scotch, and a fun and engaging brand that has a really strong future ahead.

SND: How has Hendrick’s responded this year amid the changing market?

Basford: Our biggest and most important brand in the U.S. It’s strategically very different from what’s out in the gin category, and I think that’s why it has always done well. Hendrick’s has managed to set itself apart on many fronts. The bottle is clearly a big element, as is the recipe and our pride in master distiller Lesley Gracie, who brings accessible liquids to the market over and over again. Because it’s so distinctive, the people who drink it on-premise sought it out very actively at retail during the pandemic, so the brand really responded. We’ve done different sizes and variants, and we have limited editions from our Cabinet of Curiosities like Midsummer Solstice and Luna, which have very distinct taste profiles and have been a huge success. Hendrick’s has returned to growth on-premise, and on top of a very strong retail profile that now exists that will continue to take the brand further.

William Grant & Sons—Key Brands in the U.S.
Brand Type Total 2020
Case Volume1
YTD Percent
Change in
Control States2
Sailor Jerry Rum 680 -6.5%
Hendrick’s Gin 441 14.9%
Milagro Tequila 349 126.4%
Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey 304 10.5%
Glenfiddich Single Malt Scotch 185 13.2%
Reyka Vodka 168 8.3%
Flor de Caña Rum 167 17.6%
The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch 111 4.8%
Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt Scotch 104 15.4%
Grant’s Blended Scotch 94 1.0%
Drambuie Liqueur 45 2.5%
Hudson American Whiskey 11 17.6%
Fistful of Bourbon Bourbon 10 124.7%
Total Key Brands2 2,669 17.5%
Total William Grant & Sons USA 3,060 14.6%
1 Thousands of 9-liter case depletions.
2 Year-to-date through September.
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