Jameson, Diageo and Seagram…
Having just returned from a holiday in the Emerald Isle, I thought I would share some thoughts, especially about my favorite topic.
Seagram had the distribution rights to this Irish whiskey for quite some time and, frankly, didn’t do much with it. With the exception of St. Patrick’s Day promotions and pushing the Irish Coffee drink, the brand went nowhere for years. I suppose it’s understandable, with millions of scotch sales at the heart of the portfolio, there was little room for this great brand.
Irish Distillers took the brand back and a series of smart moves set Jameson on a growth path under the leadership of Richard Burrows, one of the smartest industry executives I’ve ever met. The Irish Distillers Group controlled all the major brands of whiskey and consolidated the production and marketing. In other words, they focused their efforts. Ultimately, Pernod Ricard took over the company.
Today the brand is one of the fastest growing in the spirits industry in the US with annual growth rates in the 20 to 25% range. There are lots of factors at play contributing to its success including — Pernod’s focus; consumer interest in it’s unique taste and strong imagery; shot usage; interesting drinks and, more recently, the advertising.
The other major Irish whiskey, Bushmills, owned by Diageo, has also grown steadily but pales by comparison to Jameson. It doesn’t seem to have the same attributes among consumers. Also, let’s not forget that Bushmills is from Northern Ireland (UK) while Jameson is made in the Republic of Ireland in the south.
I find it interesting to consider these booze brands and Irish history. Ireland became independent in 1922. Prior to that it was a country occupied and ruled by the Vikings, the Normans and, for 800 years, the British.
Today, the national whiskey brands come from either the French or the British. In fact, in Ireland, roughly 3 million cases of all spirits are sold each year with Diageo (30%) and Pernod (35%) the dominant players.
Count me among those who love Jameson but how can you visit Ireland without drinking Guinness on its home turf. But, everywhere I turned there were Guinness logos, promotion items, paraphernalia and signage up the wazoo. Started to get on my nerves so I looked for an alternative and discovered Smithwick Pale Ale (pronounced Smith-ick). I loved the taste and flavor but my ardor was dashed when I discovered that Diageo owned it.
Nevertheless, I think I’ll stick with it.
For my ex-Seagram friends
My wife and I visited the Cliffs of Moher. This is a world-renowned landmark towering over the Atlantic by over 700 feet with breathtaking views. That is, when it’s not shrouded in mist and fog as was the case when we were there.
Every now and then a gust of wind would blow and for a few brief moments, you could catch a glimpse of the magnificent views, only to have the visibility blocked again.
My wife, a veteran of many Seagram trips and the over-the-top efforts to accommodate executives and distributors remarked, “If this were a Seagram trip, there would be giant fans all over the place to keep the mist and fog away.”
No question about it.