Tito’s, now #1 spirit in the U.S., restructures to leverage domestic popularity overseas

Tito’s Handmade Vodka is surging in popularity around the world, John McDonnell, Tito’s Managing Director, International, tells TMI.

In the U.S. Tito’s sales volume increased by more than 20% in 2019 (IWSR) as Smirnoff vodka dropped down as the top-selling distilled spirit in America for the first time in more than a decade.

Tito’s reorganization of its duty free and international business announced last year has set the company up for even more global success, says McDonnell.

WEBB Banks began distributing the brand in Americas travel retail beginning October 1, 2019. WEBB Banks also represents Tito’s in domestic markets in Latin America and the Caribbean, and handles major global accounts Dufry and DFS around the world.

Tito’s was previously handled in the channel through Edrington Americas Travel Retail (EATR) and Duty Free Global.

McDonnell tells TMI that it is important that Tito’s be a distributor’s number one priority.

“Now we are the largest and most important brand in WEBB Banks’ portfolio, enabling us to get the focus the brand deserves and more programs. That alone is going to help us grow the business. WEBB also has a dedicated person only focusing on Tito’s on cruise lines as well. Cruise lines are a huge piece of our business,” he says.

Tito’s also underwent a major restructure in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and Europe.

In September, a new team took over responsibility from Duty Free Global, which has managed the brand since its international launch five years ago.

In Asia Pacific, a new Duty Free Manager role has been created. Former Duty Free Manager Asia Pacific for Patrón Spirits, Art Hyndman, joins the business and is responsible for managing Tito’s development and activations across the region from his base in The Philippines.

Business in Europe with Aer Rianta International, Lagardère and other major

customers is now led by Tito’s European Regional Manager, Luca Cardillo, Tito’s representative in domestic markets for the past five years. Tito’s German distributor, Hardenberg-Wilthen AG, is responsible for the relationship with Heinemann in the region.

In the Gulf, where Tito’s historically has performed strongly, the duty free business is now managed from Dubai by domestic partner of five years, Focus Brands.

In duty free, Tito’s is currently available in 45 of the top-75 global airports.

Even before the coronavirus stopped travel in its tracks, Tito’s was facing challenges as it tries to match its success in the U.S., says McDonnell.

“The challenge outside the U.S. is still the taxation on imported products. For example, the UK is the fourth most taxed country on beverage alcohol. So our price positioning is much higher overseas than in the Caribbean and the U.S., which is a challenge. The cost of doing business in those duty free shops continues to go up.”

McDonnell expects Tito’s explosive growth to continue when life returns to normal.

While on-premise and travel retail spirits sales ground to a halt during this global crisis, the spirits home delivery channel has seen sales grow.

“The liquor delivery service business is going through the roof and Tito’s is one of the more popular brands being delivered. Obviously all the consumption is moving to in-home during this crisis. When things go back to normal we will pick right up where we left off,” says McDonnell.