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Making sure your brands cut through

William Ovens talks about Ian Macleod Distillers' latest additions in GTR and why it is not about just adding new brands for the sake of it, but filling a gap in the market

William Ovens Ian Macleod Distillers

What’s new for Ian Macleod?

So, we have five new products which we are really excited about, spanning both whisky and gin. A major focus for us is Edinburgh Gin and driving that in travel retail to in turn help promote the brands in multiple international and domestic markets and we are seeing a real success with it. 

It is one of the highest selling super premium gin brands in UK travel retail. We are now seeing the brand working really well throughout the world from as far afield as Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, etc. So, it’s not just a UK thing or an European thing… people are buying into the brand internationally. 

This is a major show for us [TFWA Cannes]. We are really moving into the category at the show. So, the first product we are launching is Lemon & Jasmine, with a 40% ABV and Raspberry – again 40% ABV. These were introduced a few months ago, but here we are showcasing it for real. 

These are in response to people wanting our liqueurs at full-strength. The liqueurs still have their place in terms of flexibility of serve, be it on the rocks or mixed with soda or lemonade, or with Champagne. It gives an intensity of flavour, while also playing to the lower alcohol mindset at 20% ABV. 

We also have Smokehead Rum Riot – a single malt Islay whisky, which is heavily peated and with a bold flavour. It’s disruptive, it’s not for your traditional malt driver and maybe will introduce younger, or new consumers into single malts. 

As a brand, that’s where it really picked up sales year-on-year and we want to shake it up a little further. This expression is finished in Caribbean rum casks for six months which gives added sweetness and it retails at €49.

Looking at a different price-point, we’re launching our London Hill Gin. Now this is our more entry level product. We feel that there’s a gap in the market below the dominant players of Gordon’s or Beefeater for a high-quality award-winning gin with real heritage credentials. London Hill has been in the company for many years, so we’ve not proactively marketed it to date, but it sells very well. It used to be in a traditional hooped bottle but we’ve repackaged it and rebranded. We’re also introducing a pink version here with a strawberry profile. 

It’s got pedigree – it’s in Difford’s Guide where it’s described as the ‘epitome of London Dry Gin.’ We’re hoping to build on its early success that has occurred with relatively limited distribution. 


To take you up on a point, with Edinburgh Gin you have these liqueurs which are fantastically good sellers and now we have the emergence of these full-strength expressions. In terms of educated staff in retail outlets and travel retail, how are you proactively doing that? 

I think people need a bit of extra help to understand the difference between the two sub categories. We have taken on a member of staff to do just that – Katie Burns is our admin and training executive and Sarah Tounsi will help her. 


In terms of proposition, will they sit alongside one another on the shelf?

It will vary for operatives to be fair. If you go through UK airports with its entries in gin, brandy and liqueurs in just one area, that seems to work well for them. Equally, there are places where the liqueurs and gins are separated entirely, which seems to go well. 

In that case will it also depend on the market? Are there some areas or regions where the focus will be on the liqueurs and others on the gins? 

Definitely that’s the case. In some markets, particularly the Asian market, the emphasis on the full-strength will be quite prominent, while elsewhere we have introduced the liqueurs. I should say we’ll be launching new flavours of the liqueurs, so we are still committed to them as well. 


On Smokehead, you’ve said that it is perhaps aimed at a younger consumer – however is that a fit with the traditional demographic of a travel retail shopper? I think travel retail is a strange one where younger people might bypass the retailers as they try to do things cost-effectively. 

It probably is for younger people. There currently aren’t many options to draw them into the malt category and this really ticks the boxes. It stands out as being a bit edgier and maybe more relevant. Monkey Shoulder has success with such a proposition and there’s some overlap with that in terms of the kind of ideas we have.


Will you celebrate that Caribbean rum at all? Are there any activations planned?

The vibrant colours really stand out, so we’ve got lots of orange which will come to the fore. Where possible we’ll have them served in either a Smokehead and cola or Rum Riot and ginger beer. These serves really resonate, so we’ll be doing that and doing tastings. I think it’ll be done in the right way however and it’ll be tactful.


Lots of activations want to bring that sense of a distillery home to travellers in duty-free. Does Islay pose its own challenge? I think it’s very hard for those who have never been there to imagine what they’re getting.

The category is so strong and with the strength of Islay malts it’s perhaps more for the adventurous palate. We think here we’ve really selected two hot categories – Islay malt whisky and rum and we hope that combination of the two is appealing.

When you taste Rum Riot, it has a smokiness clearly, but the smoothness, roundness and sweetness is perhaps surprising. 


For London Hill, why have you gone in that direction when the buzzwords seem to be premiumisation? It actually seems to have elements of premium products.

That’s exactly right – gin is such a hot category just now, but there’s not really been a lot of action and innovation around the entry level. I think people are looking for great tasting gins that don’t cost the earth. This ticks a lot of boxes, it has heritage, the look and feel is good, it’s won awards. There’s also the fact that it’s 43% ABV – a lot of standard gins are lower ABV. 

Speaking broadly about the channel, what do you perceive as being the challenges and opportunities in GTR?

I suppose one of the challenges is the sheer number of new entrants. You have to make sure your brands cut through that and that you have trained retail staff so that they understand the brands and can communicate easily at point-of-purchase. 

I do see there being a lot of opportunities because we have confidence in our own brands and we are moving them forwards. We have innovation coming through, there’s positive momentum and trajectory. For us, Edinburgh Gin is one of the fastest growing gins on the market just now and the brands are getting international distribution and they’re working their rotations. That gives us confidence.

In the next few shows we think we’ll be able to show this journey, but we’re not just introducing something for the sake of it, but because we’re offering something to the consumer.

7 October 2019