2017: Year of the Bulldog

image001 (1)Look out for Bulldog gin in the Americas in 2017.

This summer Bulldog created an Americas division, responsible for the development and execution of the brand’s commercial strategy in the US, Canada, Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean, with a particular focus on the on-premise.

And now the fastest growing premium gin in the world (IWSR) has big plans for the brand in the region in the coming year, Chester Brandes, Managing Director Bulldog Americas, tells TMI in an exclusive interview.

“The creation of the Americas division is a major initiative for the company. The US and Canada represent two out of five of the largest premium gin markets in the world. There is obviously a lot of development that needs to take place in both of those markets. If you don’t focus and make the investment in the right people, [the development] is probably not going to happen or will take a lot longer,” says Brandes. “What Bulldog needs is a lot of promotional focus and distribution in the US market and that is one of the priorities for 2017/18/19 going forward.”

Brandes, who was most recently CEO of Imperial Brands, has brought in Christian Castren as Commercial Director Latin America and Shayne Ackerl as Commercial Director Canada. They join Senior Brand Manager North America Jaron Berkhemer, who led Bulldog’s existing US team. All three now report to Brandes.

As of October 1, Bulldog has also partnered with World Equity Brand Builder (WEBB) to manage all of the Caribbean domestic markets except for Puerto Rico, which is managed by Campari USA.

“I think it is a perfect fit working with WEBB in the Caribbean. Bulldog is very similar position-wise to a brand like Tito’s vodka,” says Brandes.

Bulldog is already doing well in the Dominican Republic, which as of now accounts for 90% of the brand’s sales in the Caribbean, says WEBB.


Not your grandfather’s gin

Brandes has high expectations for Bulldog in the region.

“I would not have accepted this challenge if I did not believe that the potential was enormous. Bulldog needs tender loving care, time, attention, and creating that unique selling proposition, but it has all the elements to make it happen,” he explains. “The bottle has to be the hero because the package is so unique and sets it apart. Bulldog is a modern gin. What Absolut vodka did when they launched, being very disruptive to the vodka category, I think Bulldog has the same potential in the gin category. It is not your grandfather’s gin.”

Because of Bulldog’s taste profile, Brandes is targeting some countries that have traditionally been vodka markets.

“Bulldog is 40% Alc/Vol, slightly less strong than some of its competitors,” Brandes points out.

“We’re in most of the Central American countries that matter. El Salvador is the most interesting because it is not a traditional gin market, but rather a big imported vodka market. The opportunity is there because of Bulldog’s taste profile. It is very mixable. It has a citrus nose. The way I describe this simply is that Bulldog is a vodka drinker’s gin. It is very easy for a vodka drinker to go to Bulldog,” he says.

Outside of the US and Canada, Bulldog is also focusing on Mexico, Brazil and Colombia.

“Mexico –the largest premium gin market in Latin America –probably has the biggest potential. We also see a lot of potential in Brazil and Colombia,” says Brandes.


Duty Free/Travel Retail

Campari handles Bulldog’s duty free/travel retail business, but Brandes plans to supplement its efforts with support where needed.

“We are adding more brand ambassadors in the US to help out Campari’s efforts. That makes a difference,” he says.

“Bulldog has a lot of activations with Dufry in Brazil. We are in DFA in airports and on the northern border and the brand is performing very well. We are very active with cruise ships. We are doing good business with Carnival in the restaurants and bars. We have ideas for activations there that are unique and different.

“There will be a lot more activations on the duty free/travel retail side as well as on the domestic side in the US. Plus we will have a very novel program that we will be launching in Canada in conjunction with the LCBO in Ontario that will be second quarter 2017. It is an idea that can easily translate into the cruise ship segment and/or traditional retail on the duty free side if it is as successful as we think it is going to be in Ontario.”


Honing the message

Bulldog is also launching a new marketing campaign next year.

“We have a great product, we have a great package, but that is not enough. We’ve got to differentiate ourselves on the marketing side, and with the message that we send out. You will see a new campaign in 2017. The copy is going to get edgier to get more people’s attention.”

Bulldog has achieved much of its success on-premise, and Brandes says it is paramount that consumers sample the gin.

“Bulldog is the kind of brand you need to get the liquid to the lips. We are going to have to sample people. It is not what most people expect from a gin. It is not overpowering. I can’t stress that enough. It is a pleasant surprise to most consumers when they try it,” he says.