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Interview, Part 2: Paul Basford, President and Managing Director, U.S., William Grant & Sons

December 1, 2021

In the second part of our interview, William Grant & Sons’ U.S. president and managing director Paul Basford discusses the opportunities ahead for brands like Milagro Tequila, Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey, and Fistful of Bourbon, as well as the family-owned company’s approach to innovation.

SND: The Milagro brand is rapidly progressing in the Tequila category. How do you plan to keep that momentum going?

Basford: It is getting very competitive, but I think the category has exploded so much that there’s almost room for everybody in their own unique positioning. We try to approach it differently from talking about heritage and traditional Mexican imagery, which is a lot of what is in the category already. Our persona will be more about sunshine, about the brand being bright, vibrant, and extraordinary. Milagro probably has the best bottle in our entire global portfolio. When you pair that with the accessible price point and the liquid it shows there are more than one or two facets to its success. Then you add on that the category is on fire, and there’s still runway for it to get significantly bigger. Agave costs have been crazy, but we’ve been able to sustain a very strong supply profile on Milagro, and consumers and trade are responding.

SND: In Irish whiskey, competition also has been ramping up. How is progress on Tullamore Dew currently?

Basford: Tully has held its own very nicely, despite the intense competition with brands like Jameson and Proper No. Twelve. We’re now starting to execute a brand new marketing campaign, a step away from traditional Irish whiskey marketing that puts Tullamore, the town, at the heart of the campaign, which is really important. Tully has very strong on-premise resonance—it’s mixable and is also used as a side drink to a beer in Irish accounts—and its retail presence is complementing that. We’re putting money behind it with a solid reinvestment rate to make sure we continue to build on its progress.

SND: How has the Fistful of Bourbon brand been received in the early going?

Basford: When you’re launching in retail with no on-premise, as we did during the pandemic, it’s a very tough condition in which to succeed, but Fistful is off to a great start. We’re rolling out now a very strong sampling campaign, and I think retail will see a significant increase in velocity, which has been good already. Our positioning is focused on the blending and the collection of very unique Bourbons that we put together to make a fabulous liquid. The label is incredibly different and a step away from the norm in the category. When you see it on-shelf it really pops, which you have to do when you’re entering the category for the first time against the 20-foot fixture with lots of established brands. It’s very difficult to cut through. I think where we’ll see the propel for Fistful is in the on-premise. The sampling campaign emphasizes its mixability, and I imagine the bartender fraternity will adopt this one as it has Monkey Shoulder because it’s similar in its cool orientation.

SND: In rum, you have two contenders with Sailor Jerry and Flor de Caña. How are conditions for each of those brands?

Basford: It’s a very tough segment for Sailor. It’s been a brand that’s always delivered strongly for the business, but consumer trends have changed a bit, depending on the market. Spiced rums are one of the most calorific categories when you’re mixing with things like cola, and they’re in structural decline. So it’s not on-trend nationally, but we do see strong pockets of growth in spiced rum. Florida particularly is doing very well, as is Texas and the Northeast. On the flip side we have Flor de Caña, which is doing really well in the super-premium portion of rum, particularly the higher marques. It’s got great positioning, with strength in markets like Florida and Boston. People have become more amenable to sipping rum and drinking it as you would a whiskey. Flor de Caña is another string to our bow in that category.

SND: How does the innovation pipeline currently look? Do you plan to launch any new products over the next few months?

Basford: There is some significant innovation coming early next year, which we’re not quite ready to talk about yet. But generally we believe that our blending expertise allows us to innovate into categories where we don’t have mainstream brands and build from the ground up, instead of acquisition and the costs around that. That’s how we look at it as a company.

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