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Jameson takes Supreme Brand Champion 2018 title

A strong innovation strategy, bold marketing and smart investment gives Jameson – our Supreme Brand Champion 2018 – an enviable position in the international spirits market.

Jameson has been named Supreme Brand Champion 2018 by The Spirits Business

If there’s a spirit category that’s sure to ignite excitement in the drinks world right now, it’s Irish whiskey. Lighting the way for emerging brands to follow is category leader Jameson, which holds the position of the world’s best-selling Irish whiskey. Its volumes are irrefutably impressive, and its consistent year-on-year growth in an increasingly competitive market was just one of many factors that secured the brand’s accolade of Supreme Brand Champion 2018.

“We’ve established a very consistent approach to how we bring Jameson to market on a regular basis,” says Simon Fay, international marketing director, Irish Distillers. “People are increasingly discovering the taste of Jameson and realising it’s got complexity, but it’s also a very approachable whiskey.”

Innovation has been a crucial contributor to Jameson’s success, says Fay. Last year, the brand added a new expression to its experimental Caskmates range, one that had been finished in IPAseasoned barrels. The whiskey came about from collaboration between Brian Nation, master distiller at Midleton Distillery, Dave Quinn, master of whiskey science at Midleton Distillery, and Shane Long, Franciscan Well Brewery founder and head brewer.

“We have continued to evolve and we will continue to evolve,” says Fay. “Our focus has been on innovation over the past five to seven years. Caskmates happened at a time when others in the whiskey category were maybe going down the flavour route. We decided we wanted to stick to something close to the brand and product. I don’t think we conform to what other parts of the market are doing.”

But innovative new releases have not been Jameson’s only way of enticing new drinkers. Jameson’s Dublin-based visitor centre was reopened last year following an €11m (US$12.86m) investment under the new name of Jameson Distillery Bow Street.

Formerly named The Old Jameson Distillery, the location is steeped in history. Production of Jameson Irish whiskey began here in 1780, when the site was called Bow Street Distillery. In 1971, the distillery was closed and production was moved to Midleton. The old buildings remained unused until they were first transformed into a visitor centre in 1997. For Fay, the history behind the site is yet more reason to attract fans – and in turn bolster the wider category.

“We have 300,000 people visiting annually,” he says. “Dublin has become a very interesting city for people to visit, thanks to tourism, which has really been a massive part of the Irish economy. Our brand home is a vital element of that path of discovery, to learn more about the brand history, heritage and family in a very interactive way – a personalised, but interactive way. We’ve spent huge amounts on redevelopment, optimising the space, trying to develop more of the experience, adding interaction, and really allowing people to get under the skin of what Jameson is about.”

The €11m Jameson Distillery Bow St

When it comes to Jameson retaining its position as the top Irish whiskey on the market, Fay is unfazed by the new producers poised to join the category. As recently as 2014, there were only four whiskey distilleries in Ireland. Today, that number has soared to 18 – and is expected to rise to more than 30 by 2020.

“People are open to discovering different styles of Irish whiskey, and different categories of whisky,” says Fay. “Irish whiskey has a great opportunity in the next 10 to 15 years to capitalise on that momentum. Whether brands sink or swim, and whether the category succeeds, will be down to quality. We are absolutely focused on producing a high-quality product; that’s critical.”

Looking ahead to the coming year, the statistics suggest the wider Irish whiskey category has no intentions of slowing down. The sector is the fastest-growing spirit category in the world, having sold almost 120m bottles (10m nine-litre cases) in 2017, according to the Irish Whiskey Association. Forecasts predict Irish whiskey sales will increase to 12m cases annually by 2020, and then by another 50% over the following decade.

But Jameson also has no intention of taking its foot off the accelerator. The brand has already brought an assortment of new products to market this year, including its first cask-strength whiskey – Jameson Bow Street 18 Years Cask Strength. Jameson Wild Seaweed became the second bitters expression to join the brand’s portfolio, made from a variety of herbs and wild dillisk seaweed.

In addition, Jameson also launched a new global marketing endeavour, called ‘Taste, That’s Why’, covering television, out of home, digital, display and social media platforms in an effort to amplify its “profile and personality” around the world.

“Whatever we do, the key thing is that we stay close to the brand,” says Fay. “We’re not conservative; we’re disruptive. But at the end of the day, it has to make sense for the brand.”

With more Irish whiskey brands set to come to market, competition will be fierce. Will Jameson be able to sustain its growth in 2018? “Absolutely,” asserts Fay. “And in 2019, and 2020 and beyond. There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t.”

The Spirits Business‘s full Brand Champions 2018 report is available to view here.

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