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Interview, Part 2: Brendan Buckley of Irish Distillers

August 25, 2022

In the second part of our interview, Brendan Buckley, global marketing director for Pernod Ricard-owned Irish Distillers, discusses Jameson’s international expansion and further growth prospects, as well as the influx of competition in the Irish whiskey market.

SND: Where have you seen the best growth in Jameson over the past year?

Buckley: We broke 10 million cases in March, ending just shy of 10.5 million cases when our fiscal year ended in June: the U.S. contribution to the total was 4.5 million cases. Starting from a high base, we are adding lots of cases in the U.S., but we are seeing triple-digit growth in some smaller markets, such as India and Nigeria, where we see excellent potential for growth. This hasn’t happened overnight as we’ve been investing in those markets for several years and we’re now beginning to see the returns. I believe we’ll be moving 1 million cases in India by 2030.

SND: With Jameson on sale in more than 130 countries, which brands do you regard as your main competitors and which markets will be your focus in the future?

Buckley: We would reference ourselves against brands like Johnnie Walker and Jack Daniel’s, but equally, Hennessy is also our competition. It’s not always other whiskeys. We always go into new markets with Jameson, our flagship brand, as it’s got the taste credentials and the accessibility. Asia is the next frontier, there’s no doubt. Equally, we haven’t cracked Latin America yet, but we’ve been investing in Brazil for a while, and this is beginning to show results at long last. Our ambition is clear—we want to become a global brand and we’re not global quite yet. You go to bars in Latin America and Asia and we’re not on the bar.

SND: Two years ago, master distiller Brian Nation left Midleton Distillery, where Jameson is produced, to join the O’Shaughnessy Distillery Co. in Minneapolis, and more recently, former Bushmills master blender Helen Mulholland joined Sazerac, and master blender Caroline Martin joined Illva Saronno at Royal Oak Distillery following her retirement from Diageo. Given the proliferation of new Irish distilleries and brands, and the investment in Ireland’s whiskey industry from major international spirit companies such as Diageo, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Sazerac, and Proximo Spirits, is IDL vulnerable to losing their big names and rising stars as opportunities arise that weren’t previously available?

Buckley: Yes, it’s always a risk. It’s something we’re cognizant of, but equally, you can’t legislate for the possibility that someone comes up and offers our master distiller Kevin O’Gorman a million to work for them. Equally, I think we’ve got a great culture in IDL. It’s not just a place you come to in order to earn a living; there is a real culture, a family vibe, and people always talk about the small family feel here. I’ve been with the company for 20 years now, and there’s no doubt, I’m an anomaly within Pernod Ricard. There is nobody in my role this long because they tend to rotate, so I like to think it’s part of why the brand has been successful. You’ve got that continuity, consistency, and the culture and that’s so important to IDL.

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