Beam Suntory: a global whisk(e)y giant

David Wilson speaks one-on-one with TMI’s Michael Pasternak

A new global player emerged last year when Suntory bought Beam Global and the combined company, now the third largest spirits supplier in the world, expects to be much more visible in travel retail around the world.

Beam Suntory’s Managing Director of Global Travel Retail David Wilson says Beam Suntory, with powerful brands in bourbon, malt whiskey, and cognac, has developed a new strategy for the ever-important travel retail channel.

DavidWilsonPhoto“Travel retail is a hugely important part of Beam Suntory’s business. If travel retail were its own market it would be around our 5th top market in the world,” Wilson tells TMI. “On 1 April this year Beam Suntory brought together its global travel retail business to create a dedicated and specialist business. This initiative is a significant strategic investment by the business and demonstrates our commitment to and recognition of the importance of travel retail to us as a business. We are doing things very differently now, with the aim of building global brand platforms through strategic long term retail partnerships and our goal is to make a significant contribution to the channel.

“Our new structure will enable us to have a global approach and align far more closely with the needs of our customers who have enthusiastically welcomed the development. Beam Suntory is the coming together of two entrepreneurial companies and cultures which have aligned philosophies with innovation at their heart. We also believe our new portfolio will enhance our potential to help lead and develop category solutions for the channel.

“We are very clear on our vision. We have three areas of focus: bourbon, malts and cognac and intend to take responsibility for leading these categories with our retail partners. There will inevitably be challenges but we have a strong vision which will help keep us focused. We would also love to create a strong platform for Japanese whisky which is receiving such strong consumer interest just now.”

The addition of Beam’s extensive bourbon, Irish whiskey, and Scotch whisky portfolio to Suntory’s Scotch and Japanese whisky gave the company a huge footprint in the most important spirits category in travel retail.

“Whiskey is the biggest category in spirits in travel retail and Beam Suntory has amazing multi-award winning brands, with fabulous heritage across the portfolio. We are a truly global whiskey business with Irish, Scotch blends and malts, Japanese, bourbon and Canadian whiskies. Beam Suntory has two of the top 10 malts in its portfolio and is responsible for 50% of the world’s bourbon production. We are doing a lot of work at the moment building on the strengths we have with the enhanced portfolio, understanding how we can lead stronger initiatives within the category with our consumers. We believe we have a responsibility to keep the categories interesting, dynamic and growing for ourselves, our customers and our consumers,” says Wilson.

Wilson says Beam Suntory, as the number one bourbon supplier in the world, is perfectly positioned to grow the popular category even further, especially in travel retail.

“Bourbon is growing very strongly worldwide and is at an exciting point in its life cycle. We believe it has momentum to grow further and our aim is to create a bourbon trail around the world. We want to bring the success of the malt category to bourbon and will therefore develop and premiumize the category through a combination of range architecture and experiential activity with consumers, bringing it to life. Now consumers have a greater appreciation of craftsmanship and are looking to drink better. They have a thirst for knowledge and an interest in whiskey. We need to support this by premiumizing the brands to make it a broader offering of premium expressions.
“We are the #1 bourbon supplier in the world and travel retail is a great environment to bring the category to life for consumers. Jim Beam has tremendous heritage, dating back to 1795 and we are working to premiumize the brand Jim Beam with products such as Signature Craft as well as our small batch bourbons which all bring the craftsmanship to life. From the malts perspective we have an enviable portfolio including the two largest Islay malts in our portfolio, Laphroaig and Bowmore. Auchentoshan is a lifestyle brand, which is accessible and will help attract and recruit younger adult consumers to malts and keep the category relevant.”

Wilson says consumers should expect to see more of Beam Suntory’s Japanese whiskies on shelf in the near future.

“We are really excited about this and hope to introduce Japanese whiskey in due course in travel retail. We certainly have the credentials and intend to bring innovation and an offering globally soon.”