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Cocktail trends and selling spirits

Stella David, CEO For William Grant & Sons, shares her thoughts on life in the booze business and the company’s newest partnership between The Balvenie and Anthony Bourdain

Stella David William Grant & Sons

Stella oversees an impressive slate of spirits brands including Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and Hendriks Gin. The 125 year-old family business has done a nice job of staying relevant over the course of a century, doing smart things such as bringing women like Stella on board. In fact, despite the fact that 2014 was a challenging year for the spirits industry as the once hot new markets in Russia and China slowed consumption, Stella sees potential ahead.

What spirit/cocktail trends do you see ahead for 2015?
Labeling new trends is hard, as you always seem you see them after they happen. However, I do think the market has evolved, and people are looking for substance behind luxury brands. Many brands come out and are very expensive—and that’s all they seem to be. People are willing to pay extra but they want substance behind the brand. The consumer wants the story; they want to know why they should believe in you. Consumers are smart; they don’t just buy things because they are expensive. If you believe in history and heritage of brand you enjoy the storytelling and the liquid.

Will the cocktail craze ever slow down?
The cocktails is a trend which is not going away anytime soon. People love the theatre and artistry of the cocktail. It really is so much more than a drink, even down to the style of the glass. The whole ritual of watching and waiting as your drink is prepared; people love it.

Talk about Anthony Bourdain’s new partnership with The Balvenie.
Bourdain will be hosting a show called Raw Craft, which looks in-depth at specialty artisans. He is also going to be a juror of the American Craft Council Rare Craft Fellowship Awards and the curator of The Balvenie 2015 Rare Craft Collection, which is a special traveling exhibition featuring original works from some of America’s finest craftspeople.

Talk about the surprising rise of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey?
People love the romance of Ireland, and Tullamore Dew just exploded in the US. At the end of 2014, the US became our biggest market for Tullmore Dew. The brand just spent $45 million dollars building new distillery in Ireland and it is the second largest whisky brand in the world.

Why isn’t there more Irish Whiskey in the market?
The American consumer has always been a fan of Irish Whiskey, but prohibition really killed off many of the small producers in Ireland, which is why there aren’t as many now as we have in Scotland. At the time of prohibition, Scotland had a much larger global footprint and was less impacted by the loss of revenue from the United States.

Do you really have a 40-year plan for Glenfiddich?
Indeed, we have a very serious 40-year forecast for the brand. If I don’t lay down enough whiskey today, in 20 years’ time we will have a problem. Decades are the kinds of numbers you think of when working with whiskey.

What has it been like being a woman in such a male-dominated business?
There are very few women in this business, but at William Grant there is a much better balance overall, and why wouldn’t you have more women? More diversity is a good thing, whether its gender, age, ethnic or social background it doesn’t really matter it’s about getting the best person in the job.


7 April 2015