La Martiniquaise-Bardinet CEO on his plans to achieve global success

22nd November, 2019 by Melita Kiely

With Cutty Sark and Marie Brizard among its recent investments, French family firm La Martiniquaise-Bardinet has become a significant player in the spirits sector. Its CEO, Jean-Pierre Cayard, tells The Spirits Business about his plans for global success.

Jean-Pierre Cayard, CEO of La Martiniquaise-Bardinet

*This feature was originally published in the September 2019 issue of The Spirits Business

A few years shy of the start of World War II, La Martiniquaise was born. Created by French entrepreneur Jean Cayard, the business began in 1934 as an importer and distributor of rum – expanding into the sale of Cognac, Calvados, kirsch, Madeira, Port and sweet wines in 1946. The company’s native France remains the biggest market for its diverse portfolio – but the group’s ambitions are global.

In 1993 La Martiniquaise added another string to its bow when it acquired fellow French company Bardinet, forming La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet. Today, Jean Cayard’s son, Jean‐Pierre Cayard, is president of the family‐owned firm.

“My professional history is quite long, and changes have been significant,” says Cayard, who joined his father at the business in 1970 after graduating, and took over as president in 1990. “When I joined the company, there was no big distribution, or modern distribution – it was just some old shops. It was very limited, very traditional.” That could not be further from today’s setting. With four million‐case‐selling brands to its name – Label 5, Sir Edward’s, Poliakov and Negrita – today, La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet boasts strong markets in Europe and is actively working to expand its footprint on a global scale – including tapping into the lucrative travel retail channel. Cayard attributes much of the company’s success to family ownership.

“A big difference for us is that because we are family‐owned we can take a long‐term view, we don’t have to be motivated by what will be the next movement on the stock exchange,” he says. “Family companies are more dynamic than big, corporate ones; we can react much faster. Just look at William Grant in the UK; they are a family business and they have been a very prosperous and dynamic company.”

The past year has certainly been a busy one for the group, with many marketing campaigns launched, brand investments and acquisitions. In February, La Martiniquaise‐ Bardinet became the majority shareholder in fellow French drinks group Marie Brizard Wine & Spirits (MBWS), increasing its ownership to 51% and commanding the majority of the board.

Setting sail: the company has high hopes for its recently purchased Cutty Sark

TURBULENT TIMES

After La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet received authorisation from France’s anti‐trust authority, its parent company, Compagnie Financière de Prises de Participations, invested €37.7 million (US$42.7m) to increase its stake in MBWS. The terms set out by the anti‐trust authority included the sale of La Martiniquaise‐ Bardinet’s Tiscaz Tequila – which has “reached nearly 20% of the French market share”, says Cayard. He explains that the sale is necessary because combined with the San José brand owned by MBWS, “we would have over 80% of the French [Tequila] market”. The conditions also required MBWS to sell its Port wine brand, Pitters, but with La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet’s Porto Cruz brand “doing very well”, Cayard remains confident in the future success of both businesses, even with the turbulent few years MBWS has experienced of late.

Another major step for the group was its takeover of Cutty Sark. Last November, La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet welcomed the blended Scotch brand into its portfolio for an undisclosed sum, taking over ownership from Edrington and enabling the company to become the world’s number‐five Scotch whisky group, according to the IWSR.

“It’s a very big challenge for us to try and build the Cutty Sark brand again,” explains Cayard. “It was not a priority for Edrington and that was why they decided to sell it and to give more focus to Famous Grouse and Macallan. In France the brand has totally disappeared except in one shop chain, called Nicolas, and apart from that it was impossible to find a bottle of Cutty Sark in the country.” The challenge for La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet is to bring the brand into the mainstream and increase its market footprint – something it has been quick off the mark to achieve.

“We really have the ambition to put Cutty Sark in other countries – and we have already started,” explains Cayard. “We have entered 12 new markets in the past six months and it is our ambition to put it all over the world. It’s our flagship, and a key priority.”

Cutty Sark joined La Martiniquaise‐ Bardinet’s Scotch portfolio, which already includes the likes of blended Scotch Label 5 and single malt Glen Moray. And just like its stablemates, Cutty Sark can expect to receive a travel retail push from its new owner.

“Travel retail is really important because air traffic is increasing every day,” says Cayard. “Glen Moray is one of our expanding brands in duty free; it’s key. For our brandy, Bardinet, duty free is a significant part of the business. For Cutty Sark, we want it to also be a successful part of the plan. It’s important for our mainstream brands and newly acquired ones to further develop the channel and invest in advertising in airports. We are taking travel retail step by step, but we see positive results and we are continuing in this direction.”

International expansion is a crucial part of La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet’s long‐term strategy, in travel retail and domestic markets. “Our objective is to get 50% turnover of the group from outside France. Last year we went from 36% to 40%; it was a really big improvement,” says Cayard. “In 2019 Cutty Sark will also increase a little bit. I think this is achievable in less than five years.”

Label 5 will also play its part in helping La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet realise its global aspirations and is already present “in 100 countries”, says Cayard proudly. In recent years, the blended Scotch has received “a lot of investment”, particularly through its Power of 5 global campaign, and most recently through a packaging update for its Classic Black expression. Label 5’s strength lies in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa – but awareness of the brand is on the rise in South America and Asia, Cayard adds.

Poliakov: the brand received the first airport advertising investment from La Martiniquaise-Bardinet

INTERNATIONAL DRIVE

“Label 5 is strategic for us, and we have invested a lot to drive international affairs,” he says. “You can judge the success of a campaign with the market share, and at this moment we are slightly gaining in France and in some other places around the world. Label 5’s sales are half in France, half international, and the new packaging gives the brand more modernity, more impact and brings it more in line with the global brand platform.”

Single malt Scotch Glen Moray is also keeping Cayard happy. “For us, Glen Moray is one of the most promising brands,” he enthuses. Since acquiring the Speyside distillery in 2008, production has been ramped up from 2.5m litres of

alcohol per year to 6m. The brand has become known for its innovative cask finishes, such as the Glen Moray Rhum Agricole Cask Finish Project, which launched in August as part of the Elgin Curiosity range. Master distiller Graham Coull, who recently announced his departure, worked with Martinique‐based Saint James Rhum – part of the La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet portfolio – to create the whisky, which followed the 2018 cider cask finish.

“The malt category is very competitive,” states Cayard. “But Glen Moray is doing extremely well. This new experimental range fits perfectly in line with what we want to do with the brand, with our objective to be avant‐garde.” In the next year, Cayard plans to invest in the distillery’s visitor centre and strengthen the brand’s distribution network. “We need to accelerate the growth of this brand in line with our high expectations,” Cayard admits. “But we are very confident about the success of Glen Moray,” he says, adding that malts are performing better than blends in the current climate.

“France is the number‐one export country for Scotch whisky but blended Scotch sales are slightly down – it’s the first time we’ve seen that for a long time,” Cayard continues. “Globally, in the States for example, blended whisky is a very difficult market, so malt has a greater future, a better ‘want‐ability’ than blended whisky, so we will support our malt brand Glen Moray very heavily.”

And the brand ties in nicely with La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet’s travel retail goals. In October, a travel retail‐exclusive trio of Glen Moray bottlings was released, comprising a no‐age‐statement, 12‐year‐old and 15‐year‐ old Scotch whisky. Called Elgin Signature, the collection was designed to “give an excellent overview of the whiskies produced at the Glen Moray distillery in Elgin”.

“In travel retail, consumers like to have exclusivity with no comparison with other outlets if possible,” Cayard says. “That is what we want to give them with this range.”

On the white spirits side of things, though the vodka category as a whole may be struggling to stay afloat, La Martiniquaise‐ Bardinet’s Poliakov has remained resilient. While leading mainstream brands have suffered continued declines, Poliakov has managed to at least maintain volume sales for the past three years, shifting around 1.5m cases per year, according to Brand Champions data. Cayard attributes the majority of vodka’s struggles to the US: “The problem is not exactly the category – it’s Tito’s. Tito’s is growing so fast in the vodka category that the others are not able to grow.”

Gibson’s joins the pink gin army

FRENCH FAVOUR

Poliakov, on the contrary, has been a French favourite for a number of years. “We have 40% market share in France; it’s very mature, but sales are slightly decreasing,” Cayard explains. “We are investing a lot abroad and we are developing sales by 10%, which balances out to make the total volume flat.”

Investment in Poliakov also includes travel retail, and the brand secured distribution in Aelia Duty Free stores last year. The vodka is now available in 44 airports in Europe, including France, Luxembourg, Poland and Italy, as well as on board British ferries. What’s more, the brand became the first in La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet’s portfolio to receive airport advertising.

With vodka flat, the popularity of gin has not gone unnoticed by La Martiniquaise‐ Bardinet. One trend in particular that caught the group’s eye was the growth of pink gin – so it rolled out its own colourful iteration this year in the form of Gibson’s Pink.

“Gin is big in Europe, particularly in the UK, but there are many, many other countries without the same level of maturity,” says Cayard. “There are many, many years ahead to seduce the rest of the world, and we have big plans to conquer the world with the original Gibson’s and pink.”

GROWING CATEGORY

France is one such country Cayard hopes will soon be better acquainted with Gibson’s, with the gin category’s market share here still “extremely small” – though it is growing, he insists. On the flip side, the French are already hugely familiar with rum – “which is growing 4% as of this moment on an annual basis, the only category growing, apart from gin”, Cayard notes with excitement. Not only growing, he adds, but doing so from an already large sales base. This bodes well for La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet’s rum brands, Saint James and Negrita.

Negrita is pitched as a “more mainstream” brand, with activations targeted towards festivals and digital engagement. Meanwhile, Saint James, the world’s best‐selling agricole rhum, brings a “much more premium” persona to the portfolio, and so the group’s focus has been on communicating with influencers, rum experts and bartenders.

In March, Saint James rolled out its own cocktail bitters following two years of research and development to encourage the on‐trade to experiment more with agricole styles. Plus, “significant” investment is being poured into expanding the brand’s maturation facilities through the transformation of the historic La Salle cellars in Martinique. Although this will only create room for an extra 700 barrels to be stored, Cayard is positive it will greatly enhance the Saint James brand.

“We think agricole rhum is a wonderful category, but there is a big gap for education and we are doing it with Saint James, step by step, and communicating with the experts,” explains Cayard.

“There is a lot to do – but maybe Campari will continue to educate also alongside us,” he quips, referencing Campari Group’s recent acquisition of neighbouring Martinique agricole rhum brand Trois Rivières.

St James’ cocktail bitters

Another area of the group’s portfolio that Cayard says is in need of on‐trade attention is its traditional French spirits brands.

With the recent acquisition of Lejay, the cassis liqueur leader, Cayard believes La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet has a “great family of crafted brands cultivating French excellence”. “We are trying to develop a category we call ‘craft from France’ with our agricole rhums – Saint James and Depaz – Lejay liqueur, St Raphaël, Busnel Calvados, St Vivant Armagnac and Aveze,” explains Cayard.

“As the worldwide leader for agricole rhum, cassis liqueur and Calvados, we have a key role to play to further grow these categories.

“They are very good products, but young people don’t go for them because they are not part of cocktails. So we have to look at Calvados, Armagnac, pastis, and find some cocktails for these products. Then they will have a very good image.”

BRIGHT FUTURE

With such a diverse portfolio, the future is looking prosperous for La Martiniquaise‐ Bardinet. But there is always room for change – could future acquisitions be in the pipeline? “No,” asserts Cayard. “Acquisition is a question of opportunity, and should we have an opportunity or occasion, we will do it. But there is nothing in the coming months.”

With Cutty Sark still fresh into the company’s bulging portfolio, a majority stake in MBWS to look after, expansion across both travel retail and domestic markets, plus multiple brand investments, there is much work to be done at La Martiniquaise‐Bardinet – and Cayard hopes to be there to see it through for as long as possible.

“I hope to be here to see the company in 10, 20 years – we have a lot of work to do to reach our goals,” he concludes. “But when you are small, you can expect to grow.”

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