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Busy times ahead for Diageo N.I.

It’s been a busy year for all at Diageo’s N.I. headquarters. From lending its support to various local bodies and events, to developing and introducing new brands and innovation to the trade, Diageo are a company that refuses to rest on its laurels.

2013 promises more of the same, as Country Director of Diageo NI, Michael McCann told Hospitality Review’s Louise Murphy.

“It has been a really challenging year”, Michael explains, “yet again, statistics will tell us that people are drinking less alcohol both in pubs and at home. In the recent past people were drinking less in pubs but more at home, now we are seeing people are drinking less full stop, both at home and in pubs. That’s the general trend in the market.

“However if you take a step back and look, there are still outlets that are doing exceptionally well, they’re outperforming their market significantly and actually showing growth in their business which is great. That gives you reasons to be optimistic and confident for the future. A number of factors are key to this; one of which is location – Belfast in particular is still a very vibrant city with a lot going on. The successful operators are very tuned into customer service and the customer offering; food and events are big factors – that whole customer experience when you’re out for a great night.”

One area which Michael believes is pivotal to the long-term sustainability of the sector is tourism. Diageo works closely with Belfast Visitor and Convention Bureau and sponsors the N.I.T.B. Awards. This year they will be heavily involved in the World Police and Fire Games and Derry-Londonderry U.K. City of Culture.

Michael adds: “It’s very important for a company such as ourselves to get involved in this as one of the key values that we stand for is supporting the communities in which we operate. We have a very strong presence in Derry and have had for a number of years so it’s important for us to be a partner in this event.

“The two big programmes are the World Police and Fire Games and City of Culture. We see those as two big opportunities, an opportunity for us to invest back into the community, both in Belfast and in Derry. It’s a year long calendar of events in Derry and at the minute we are working with all the relevant people involved to develop a plan for 2013.

“We see it as a great opportunity, not just for consumers locally, but for visitors who will be attending the events as well.”

 

Customer support

As part of Diageo’s commitment to supporting their customers, they are constantly looking at innovative ways to stay ahead of the game. One such method has been the introduction of Diageo Connect.

“We are all about being innovative and developing to suit customer needs,” Michael added. “Diageo Connect is at this stage, an online ordering facility, designed to help make it easier for customers to do business with us. Our customers were telling us we had to be more flexible with their working times. This is a commitment to making it easier for our customers to do business with us and being creative and innovative.

“Alongside Connect we still have a significant head count in customer service, so it’s not a position of us moving away from the personal touch, it sits alongside the existing customer service team.

All of our customer service team and our credit team for Ireland are now centralised at Boucher Rd. This is a good news story for the local economy with the creation of 39 jobs and is a sign of Diageo’s commitment to continued investment in Northern Ireland.

There’s a real buzz about the office and there’s generally a great atmosphere.”

This could well be down to Diageo’s commitment to making their office a great place to work, Michael continued.

“We work extremely hard at making Diageo Northern Ireland a great place to come to work, because it can be tough in the working environment,” Michael explained. “We’ve got great people who are highly engaged and committed to giving back to the communities in which we operate.

Events are another way in which the company continues to help support their customers. Michael said: “We have the Six Nations coming up in January/February time. Year on year we’re seeing more people coming to the pub for that occasion. Sport is still a big driver, specifically rugby with Guinness while football builds footfall through brands such as Carlsberg and Budweiser. These are pub occasions which we will continue to invest in.”

 

Brand Performance 

“If I were to pick one brand which has performed particularly well for us in 2012, I would say Guinness”, says Michael. “It has performed well in terms of continuing to grow its share of market. Again that’s down to our investment behind Arthur’s Day, rugby and our general commitment to quality, making sure people are getting the perfect pint every time they go to the pub. That’s an area we invest heavily in – our quality programme has a team of 24 on the ground, making sure people get that great product experience every time.”

Also the Bushmills brand continues to grow with a double digit increase in volume and net sales this year with a successful launch of Bushmills Honey in the US. In terms of other new brands/products, Diageo will be investing further in both Guinness Mid-Strength and Smithwicks Pale Ale. Guinness Mid-Strength has performed really well in outlets which serve food, where people maybe wouldn’t have had a drink but are now opting to have it instead. It’s also performed really well in golf clubs. We plan to roll this and Smithwicks Pale Ale out in the year ahead.

“Then we’ve other products such as Captain Morgan’s Long Iced Tea which we’ve been testing, it’s doing exceptionally well and Smirnoff Mojitos which are great for bars that want to provide a ready-to-serve cocktail solution.

Looking at the twelve months ahead, Michael isn’t expecting significant change. He concluded: “I think it’s going to be another challenging year unfortunately, but it just means we’ve got to keep working hard, continuing to invest in our brands and in programmes to support our customers.

“We’re also very committed to responsible drinking and being a responsible corporate citizen. We’ve been working closely with Pubs of Ulster in formulating the industry’s Code of Conduct as well as supporting the on-going work of Drinkaware.”

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