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Interview, Part 1: Brendan Buckley, Global Marketing Director for Irish Distillers Limited, Pernod Ricard

August 23, 2022

Jameson, the No. 1 Irish whiskey brand both worldwide and in the U.S. market, recently surpassed 10 million cases globally. Brendan Buckley has been directing strategy and innovation at Jameson producer Irish Distillers Limited (IDL) for 20 years, and he was named global marketing director in 2019. Whisky Advocate contributing editor Jonny McCormick caught up with Buckley in Ireland for Shanken News Daily to hear how they achieved this milestone and how these solid gains are driving their ambitions for further growth.

SND: What is the outlook for Irish Distillers over the rest of the year and into 2023?

Buckley: We saw a surge in premiumization over the last few years driven by Covid; people were spending more time at home, they weren’t going out to restaurants and bars, and they were redirecting their discretionary income and maybe treating themselves to a nicer bottle of wine or whiskey. We saw sales of Jameson Black Barrel grow by 20% and Redbreast grew by 25%–30%. Next year is going to be a funny year between the geopolitical situation, a likely global recession, and the impact of inflation. We don’t know what will happen. One of the big topics being discussed across the industry is how everybody is going to put through some big price increases next year because of rising costs. For example, our deep-sea shipping costs have tripled.

SND: Within an economic climate of high inflation, rising energy and raw material prices, and pandemic-related issues affecting the supply chain, travel, and hospitality, what impact does this have on a brand like Jameson?

Buckley: It varies market by market. In the U.S, we’re a good value brand at the price we’re at. I would actually suspect that if there is an economic downturn, it could work to our advantage. In global travel retail (GTR), we’ve weathered the storm much like everybody else, but it’s roaring back. Right now, our biggest issue is going out of stock in airports around the world, so getting the supply chain fixed is a greater priority, but we’re gearing up for the GTR rebound. All the evidence suggests that people are spending in the travel retail environment again, so I’m confident it will be back to where it was.

SND: Do you expect growth in IDL’s premium whiskeys to be blunted in the U.S. in tougher economic conditions?

Buckley: Not necessarily. Frankly, on Redbreast, demand exceeds supply. We just can’t supply enough in the U.S. market. Personally, I think we’re on the price with Redbreast in the U.S., given the quality. I look at some non-age statement American whiskeys commanding $70–$90, and I don’t understand it. How are they commanding those prices? Redbreast 12 year old is $65—it’s a steal!

SND: Pernod Ricard is investing heavily in Chivas Brothers, their Scotch whisky business, and they are the first international wine and spirits company to establish a fully operational malt whisky distillery in China with a $150 million 10-year investment program in The Chuan Distillery in Sichuan Province. Where does Irish whiskey currently sit within Pernod Ricard?

Buckley: Jameson is the No. 2 brand in Pernod Ricard. When they acquired us in 1988, we were at just under 500,000 cases. Now we’re over 10 million cases and one of the biggest drivers in incremental growth in Pernod Ricard, so it’s a bet that’s paid off.

U.S.—Top Five Irish Whiskey Brands
(thousands of 9-liter case depletions)
Rank Brand Company 2020 2021 Percent
Change1
1 Jameson Pernod Ricard USA 3,564 4,059 13.9%
2 Tullamore Dew William Grant & Sons USA 304 327 7.6%
3 Proper No. Twelve Proximo Spirits 232 280 21.0%
4 Bushmills Proximo Spirits 201 195 -3.0%
5 Redbreast Pernod Ricard USA 47 56 18.5%
Total Top Five2 4,347 4,917 13.1%
1 Based on unrounded data.
2 Addition of columns may not agree due to rounding.Source: IMPACT DATABANK © 2022
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