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A drink with… Laurent Lacassagne, Chivas Brothers

The chairman and CEO of Chivas Brothers on China, age statements, single malts from blended brands and distillery expansions.

Laurent Lacassagne, chairman and CEO of Chivas Brothers
Laurent Lacassagne, chairman and CEO of Chivas Brothers

How would you describe the past 12 months for Chivas Brothers?

Well, I would first describe them as busy. Obviously we had a lot of projects going on, both on the brand side and on the operating side as well. On the brand side, we continued our innovation programme and delivered new brand campaigns, the latest one being for The Glenlivet. We have been busy on the operational side as well, and are in the process of completing the expansion of The Glenlivet Distillery.

We had a solid performance during the year. Chivas Regal declined slightly but with a better situation in China. We worked a lot with our Chinese friends and I hope the results will show that we are going in the right direction. Chivas grew in 52 markets, which shows that despite the brand being flat globally in terms of volume, we have a strong dynamism and we expect this dynamism to continue.

Why have you decided to reintroduce The Glenlivet 12YO?

The Glenlivet has been in a transitional period and we have launched, very successfully, Founder’s Reserve, which is now distributed more or less everywhere. We are in the process of starting to reintroduce slowly and progressively The Glenlivet 12, as far as we have, obviously, the volume availability to do so. The Glenlivet grew in this transition year and altogether I would say that our performance has been solid. I believe we are on the right track.

Will age statements become even more important to Chivas Brothers in the future?

We are in a situation where the growth of the category, which has accelerated in the past five to 10 years, has created constraints in terms of supply. So at the end of the day we were forced to act.

We see that Founder’s Reserve is playing a very interesting role in terms of recruitment into the range, attracting consumers who were in the past perhaps intimidated by the age­stated range. Founder’s Reserve had a very strong year, selling more than 250,000 cases, and it’s probably the strongest innovation in the whisky world in the past five years.

If it were a brand in the malt segment, it would be the number five in the world today. It took a bit of pressure off the age range, and it is allowing us to reintroduce this age range selectively. It also gives us the opportunity to rebuild some old stocks and maybe deliver further 15­ and 18-­year-­old expressions. So we believe that the two offerings are playing a key role in the range. It’s not age or no­-age; it’s age and no­-age together.

Why launch a single malt range under the blended Ballantine’s Scotch brand?

First, the three distilleries [that feature as single malts] are the distilleries on which the whole Ballantine’s range has been built. They are intimately linked to the brand and its roots, its history. They are the heart of the Ballantine’s brand. A couple of years ago we launched into travel retail a limited edition called the Distillery Edition, which had a stronger component of one of the three distilleries. This worked very well and it gave us the idea to go a little bit further and offer a deconstructed Ballantine’s range to the public.

Would you launch single malts under the Chivas Regal or Royal Salute labels?

We don’t have any plans at the moment. We just launched Chivas Regal Ultis, which is a blended malt and is made using whisky from the five historical malt distilleries used in the Chivas blend. I believe that there are many ways to innovate and offer something different. Will we see any more distillery expansions in the future? We are about to complete the expansion of The Glenlivet Distillery.

Two years ago we completed the development of the Dalmunach Distillery, and we recently announced the sale of one distillery – Glenallachie – so we are managing our group of distilleries. At the moment we believe we are perfectly where we want to be and we don’t feel the need to move one way or another. But as I always say, we are working on our distillation needs for the years to come and we are working with a 20­-year horizon.

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