Exclusive Interview: Bacardi’s New VP for Bombay Sapphire, Martini & Rossi

Bacardi’s Global Vice President of Grey Goose, Tom Swift, has just been named Vice President, Brand Managing Director of Bombay Sapphire and Martini & Rossi. Prior to his leadership on Grey Goose, Swift worked in the U.K. as Global Brand Director for Whisky, where he retooled Dewar’s and launched “The Last Great Malts,” five single malts under Bacardi’s ownership.

I recently spoke to Swift about his new role at Bacardi, as well as the current state of premium spirits.

Beverage Dynamics: What do you consider your career highlights, which will guide you in this new role?
Tom Swift: One highlight is the relaunch we did on Dewar’s. It’s a phenomenal brand with a great history, but that wasn’t coming to life through the positioning and packaging. So we set about telling that story in a new way, which led us to telling the story of the brand’s founder and two of his sons. It came back to life with a completely new packaging range, which told the family’s story across the portfolio. We brought that into market a few years ago and it’s been brilliant to see the impact that the packaging change and the larger campaign have had.

BombaySapphirewhitebackgroundAround that time, we uncovered a treasure trove of single malt that Bacardi had in its possession. We hadn’t done justice to that part of our whisky portfolio and to our single malt distilleries. Turning them into brands in their own right was very exciting, and it’s been amazing to visit those distilleries where fifth- and sixth-generation employees work. We’ve been able to tell their stories, which is incredible.

Moving over to the U.S. to work on Grey Goose was a very different experience from whisky. The challenge on Grey Goose has been adapting it for a very different world in 2017, compared to the world when it launched in 1997. How do you play to a world of luxury which has changed into something warmer, more playful and casual? We’ve done some great work bringing it to life in the summer and creating new drinks for the market, and it’s been a highlight for me working on such an iconic brand.

Now with Bombay Sapphire and Martini & Rossi, I’m excited about the opportunity to take these brands to new heights.

BD: Why is now the right time to make this change, both for you and for Bacardi?
TS: The company has placed a great emphasis on having experience across all brands, so you can understand categories and get deep into them – both culturally and within the trade. It’s good timing for me to get to know two new categories, particularly when you look at the growth trajectories. I look at this as a great time to join them, as gin, prosecco and vermouth all have tremendous potential.

BD: What are your future plans for Bombay Sapphire?
TS: With gin, what you’re seeing is a huge new consideration for the category. People are looking to get into gin, understand it and play with it. There’s a great role for brands like Bombay Sapphire to be that educator and welcome people into the category. How we play the educator role is very interesting to me.

MARTINI-PROSECCO_HIGHRESJPEGBeyond that, I plan to build on the great work already being done. The brand’s connection to artists can only get bigger, and I feel the same about the relationships we’ve built with bartenders through the decade-long Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. We know there’s a huge consumer interest in what bartenders are doing, and bringing that event to consumers’ attention will be interesting. The finals of the competition are fantastic, but the work that goes on at a local level and how widespread the event is across the U.S. is very powerful.

BD: With Martini & Rossi, what opportunities do you see in the market that you can exploit?
TS: For Martini & Rossi, one of the most important trends we’re seeing at the moment is consumer interest in lower-ABV cocktails. When you look at vermouths, that’s a very powerful trend. You see consumers saying they don’t always want a strong cocktail – often they want something lighter. There’s a huge opportunity to grow our vermouths by appealing to those consumers and continuing to make them the preeminent part of classic cocktails, which are undergoing a resurgence.

BD: Given your experience with premium spirits, what’s driving growth right now in the higher-end of spirit categories?
TS: We know today that experience is critical. People are going out slightly less, but when they do they want an experience. We looked at recent data showing what customers prioritize most when going to a restaurant, and experience is number one. How a premium spirit can add to that experience is important, and how they support accounts in creating that experience is very powerful.

Jeremy Nedelka is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at jnedelka@epgmediallc.com

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