William Grant CEO on the ‘bright’ future of Scotch

17th February, 2014 by Amy Hopkins

The future of whisky looks bright, driven by consumers’ growing thirst for “products with stories”, according to Stella David, CEO of William Grant & Sons.

Stella-David

For Stella David, CEO of William Grant & Sons, whisky fans “don’t just drink the liquid, they drink the story”

In a rare interview, David, who joined independent spirits company William Grant & Sons in 2009, told The Spirits Business that despite the slowdown of high-end Scotch in China, the category “is doing very well around the world and has plenty of opportunities for growth”.

In particular, she notes that in order to maintain consumer interest, spirits companies must strive to innovate and pursue a “long-term vision”, drawing on the heritage of their brands.

“In today’s marketplace, consumers want to be entertained and have great products,” she said.

“To do this, innovation must be at the centre of a company’s long-term strategy. The willingness to sit and wait for innovation is something we feel we need to do at William Grant & Sons.

“Take the Girvan Patent Still – this type of innovation is so important in maintaining a high level of interest in the industry, allowing it to thrive.”

In October last year, William Grant, maker of Glenfiddich and The Balvenie, released a “brave” new brand of single grain Scotch whisky in a bid to pioneer a new spirit category, called Girvan Patent Still.

The whisky is produced at the Girvan Distillery in the Lowlands, normally used to create grain whisky for Grant’s blended Scotch.

But, for David, this innovation extends beyond the liquid and into the realm of marketing.

“These days, you need a great quality liquid in great quality packaging. People don’t just drink the liquid, they drink the story. These days, in a massively competitive environment, there’s a need to add value to a product.

“It’s about what’s in the glass, but it’s also about the heritage of the brand. These elements mean that brands stay relevant and interest remains high.”

David added that it is this focus on communicating heritage which means “there’s more interest in Scotch than vodka” because “people really get very passionately engaged in the whisky”.

This level of consumer engagement allowed William Grant & Sons to report another “record year” in October 2013 after its sales topped £1 billion for the second year running.

But for David, financial results are not the long-term goal.

“Our sole focus isn’t on quarterly results. It’s about doing the right thing and building the business without dancing to the tune of other companies,” she said.

“Of course, this is not to say that results don’t matter in some way or that we can relax, we just focus on what we see as important for the future of the business.”

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