Interview: Pernod Ricard’s CCO Julien Hemard on Shopper Insights, Mezcal and Irish Whiskey

The global drinks corporation Pernod Ricard remained busy in 2018 with projects like greatly increasing Irish whiskey production, while encouraging drinkers to put down their cell phones and act convivial.

We recently chatted with Julien Hemard, CCO of Pernod Ricard USA, to catch up on the company’s recent developments and see what’s in store for 2019.

Beverage Dynamics: Pernod Ricard announced a $173-million expansion of its Irish whiskey facilities. What will this accomplish?

Julien Hemard: That’s part of our global three-year plan. In order to meet demand for Jameson worldwide we knew we had to increase our capacity for production. The brand is growing double digits worldwide and we don’t see that slowing down in the near future. We need to be able to meet that demand.

BD: Why has Irish whiskey recently taken off globally?

JH: A big part of that is the Jameson brand itself. That brand accounts for 80% of all Irish whiskey consumed around the world. Since we purchased Jameson in 1988 it’s been growing and growing. That’s what first got a lot of people into Irish whiskey.

The other part is that you have to remember that before Prohibition, there was more Irish whiskey being sold around the world than Scotch whisky. So now in a way we’re finally returning to the days of Irish whiskey dominating Scotch.

We like seeing more competitors in the Irish whiskey market, and more brands, because in the long run we think that’s good for the overall Irish whiskey market.

BD: Pernod Ricard made a big splash in 2017 when it purchased Mezcal Del Maguey. Why was mezcal such a priority?

JH: We have a team in the U.S., our new brand venture team, whose roll is to incubate new craft brands that they think have strong potential for growth. Mezcal is very niche, very small, but it’s also becoming very hot. A lot of on-premise bars and restaurants now have a real following for mezcal.

I like to think of mezcal as being the single malt of tequila. It’s a beautiful product with a great rich history. Del Maguey in particular is ingrained with small villages, so with today’s consumer it’s really going from strength to strength.

BD: Pernod Ricard has recently touted its work in shopper insights. What’s the objective?

JH: These are quite critical, because we want to be the best at servicing our customers, the retailers and the bar owners. It’s all about leveraging data, analyzing and developing simple framework that we can activate, so we can better understand shoppers, and help drive more traffic to alcohol businesses and their websites.

One thing we discovered is that many shoppers feel inundated when shopping for wine and spirits, because they’re overwhelmed by choices. People are scared of making the wrong choice. So our insight was that we wanted to make their life easier. One way to do that was by leveraging our portfolio of wine and champagne and spirits.

So we provided retailers with means to group all three of these categories together. Having them all in one location makes life so much easier for consumers. They don’t have to run around to three different sections.

BD: How have you evolve late in the e-commerce/digital space?

JH: Like with everybody else, this is definitely moving very fast, even though it’s still very small from a purely business standpoint.

Because we are customer-centric, we know that e-commerce brings in a lot of convenience for shoppers. It’s critical for a lot of retailers if they want to survive.

We try to help our customers get better at it, and to bring more convenience to how they shop for spirits. We’re working with big retailers like Wal-Mart, Total Wine and Kroger’s to develop specific e-commerce programs. Our digital managers are helping them become more efficient, while figuring out what does and does not work.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece What’s the Next Rosé?

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