SB interviews… Chris Heath, Stock Spirits

20th February, 2013 by Richard Woodard

It has a quintet of million case-selling brands and a powerfully ambitious private equity owner, but Stock Spirits has retained a surprisingly low profile to date. Richard Woodard met CEO Chris Heath to find out why.

Chris Heath Stock Spirits

Chris Heath, CEO of Stock Spirits

For a company with a turnover of about 300m and leadership positions in spirits markets such as Poland and the Czech Republic, you don’t hear an awful lot about Stock Spirits. Sure, vodka-based liqueur Lubelska was one of sb’s Brand Champions in June, and four of the company’s vodkas topped 1m cases in 2011, but products such as 1906, Zoladkowa Gorzka and Zubr are hardly household names in the west.

“In part it’s been deliberate because I don’t believe in talking until you’ve got something to say,” explains Stock CEO Chris Heath, the straight-talking ex-Allied Domecq exec who’s been running Stock since 2009 – part of a highly experienced management team recruited by the company’s owner, the private equity business Oaktree Capital.

Heath and I talk in a London office, high above the lawyer-filled hinterland of Chancery Lane, with big windows and a sweeping panorama taking in the City and much of south London. The perfect place, then, to take the long view, because Stock Spirits remains very much work in progress.

Heath talks about phase one being “pretty much done”, five years after he joined the business as part of a new senior management team. All drinks industry veterans – the team has over 150 years’ spirits experience and double that in FMCG terms – they could scent the potential of growing this merged combination of traditional businesses in a region of vast, uncluttered potential: central Europe.

For five years changes were made, structures altered, senior staff recruited and replaced. Some 35m was invested to modernise the company and, especially, its production facilities.

The result, five years in, is a business with leadership positions in Poland and the Czech Republic, the top-selling vodkas in those markets plus Italy, and developing operations in Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Slovenia. But one that also now has an impressive innovation record, thanks to that initial investment.

“At any one time, we have hundreds of different liquids in our NPD pipeline and under development,” explains Heath. “We research until we get the one that has the ‘wow’ factor – we spend a lot more time and effort on research than anyone else in our region, from what we see in the marketplace.”

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