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Keeping positive at Dillon Bass

As we kick-off another year, Business Unit Director for Dillon Bass, Greg Hughes shares his views on the year just past and the year ahead in the industry with Louise Murphy.

“It’s definitely been a tough year”, Greg tells me. “If we were to divide our business in two, into on-trade and off-trade, as a premium drinks company, we’re finding it much more positive in the on-trade in terms of holding our own both in volume and share.

“We’ve had some really good, stand-out performers in the on-trade. Jameson & Havana Club have performed very well, Absolut is performing even better – considerably up on volume and share. From that perspective, if we were to split our business, the on-trade has had a tough year but we’ve really held our own in the market and can see some share growth in some of our key brands.”

Off-trade however has been a different story for the company. Greg explained: “Off-trade/retail has been more challenging as a premium drinks company, some of the price promotions in retail have been very extreme and that is not something that we would actively engage in. That has been more of a struggle for us, with the level of price promotion and the growth of own labels.

“Summing up 2012, in general I would say it’s been a more challenging year for us in retail but a much more positive year in the on-trade.”

Dillon Bass are well known for their collaborations and working closely with their accounts to actively draw people to their brands. Greg added: “We had strong sponsorship campaigns in 2012 on some of our brands, for example Belsonic with Absolut, Belfast Fashion Week with West Coast Cooler.  However, without the aid of a major sponsorship, Havana Club continues to grow. This brand has performed really well for us over the past year and that’s been more around Mixology and cocktail activity, cocktail training and bar staff endorsement.”

Despite forecasting another challenging year, Greg remains positive about what 2013 holds for Dillon Bass. “I’m optimistic for 2013, I think we’re going to face the same challenges, unfortunately I don’t see anything getting particularly better in the short term of the next year or so in terms of the economy.

“However for us as a company, I’m still very optimistic about our brands and the growth that we’ve seen in 2012; I’d be expecting more of the same. Jameson I think is going to keep going from strength-to-strength and definitely Absolut would be another brand were I see huge potential for growth, albeit in a very tough market.

“From the retail side of things I think we’ll continue to face the same challenges.

The consumer is much more brand conscious and quality conscious when they go to the on-trade but it’s a completely different dynamic when they drink at home. It’s more about value, what’s on promotion and ultimately what’s the cheapest; that represents a continuing challenge for us.”

So what do Dillon Bass have planned for the year ahead? “Looking ahead to 2013, Absolut will be a key focus brand for us within the on-trade channel,” Greg says. “Absolut has great potential for growth within Northern Ireland.

“We’re not into the business of heavily discounting the brand, it is a premium brand. Growing it, we will have some key partnerships, some very bespoke activities in our outlets, with bespoke branding and sponsorships scheduled for the year.

“Jameson is another of our flagship brands; we’ll continue doing a lot of what we’ve done in the past in terms of our association with film. We also have a very strong new campaign for early 2013 for Jameson which is focused around the new ‘Jameson Perfect Serve’, that’s something to be very optimistic about.

“West Coast Cooler again will continue their involvement with fashion week and we potentially have a couple of new packs coming down the line, some special editions.

“I think you have to be optimistic; it’s trying to see the positives in what you can actually influence.”

One such positive relates to when I last spoke with Greg a few months back. He reminds me: “When we talked last one of our core brands, Jameson had just hit 3.9 million sales worldwide; now we’ve flipped over and have hit the four million mark.  It’s funny that as part of a global brand company we’re facing these challenging times locally and yet we’ve some reasons for optimism because Jameson is just continuing to grow exponentially globally, particularly in the U.S. and Asia.”

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