SB Interviews… Christian Porta

10th September, 2012 by Richard Woodard

There’s a moment in most interviews when a single comment leaps out of the conversation and makes itself into a headline. No shock, when talking to Chivas Brothers boss Christian Porta, that the moment comes during a discussion of the potential of the global Scotch whisky market.

Christian Porta, CEO of Chivas Regal

Christian Porta, CEO of Chivas Regal, spies Poland as a major opportunity for growth

But the subject of Porta’s unbridled optimism isn’t that nirvana for luxury blends, China, or the dynamic Latin American hotspots of Brazil and Mexico. No, we’re firmly in Europe – albeit the New Europe – and Poland.

Poland? “Look at Poland,” says Porta. “We will sell nearly 400,000 cases of Ballantine’s Finest there this year, nearly 10 times what we sold in 2005. Without getting carried away, Poland for Scotch whisky today is what Spain was 25 years ago. It’s a country of 40m people with a culture of drinking spirits – vodka in Poland’s case – it has increasing wealth and the positive effects of European integration.”

The case for Poland is just one element in Porta’s thoughtful dissection of the continent into “the three Europes” – encompassing crisis-hit southern Europe, the steady or moderately buoyant markets to the west and the north, and the huge potential of the east, extending into Russia. Identifying the future Spains for Scotch – especially now that the category’s former glory market has lost its lustre – has been a key part of Porta’s job since he took over as chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard’s Scotch and gin business nearly a decade ago.

When, that is, he hasn’t been assimilating some of the biggest brands in the sector, following Pernod’s series of game-changing acquisitions: Seagram in 2001 (Chivas Regal, The Glenlivet), Allied Domecq in 2005 (Ballantine’s, Beefeater) and V&S in 2008 (Plymouth).

Since then, the company has rightly made much of its success in the Far East and Europe especially, where brands such as Chivas Regal, Royal Salute and Clan Campbell have secured a strong position for the company.

But discussed in less detail and with less regularity are regions such as the US, Latin America and Africa, where Chivas continues to lag its larger Scotch competitor, Diageo. To his credit, Porta is frank in his assessment of the challenges facing the company as brands such as Passport and Chivas play catch-up against Diageo star performers including Buchanan’s and Johnnie Walker.

“We are not as well represented in Latin America as we should be,” he admits. “I think we have been relative latecomers to that part of the world. But over the last two to three years we have had a strong investment plan behind the Scotch whisky category.”

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