Brown-Forman ‘very open’ to further gin purchases

24th July, 2020 by Nicola Carruthers

US drinks firm Brown-Forman is “very open” to additional gin acquisitions following the purchase of Fords Gin last year, the managing director of the group’s global emerging brands division has said.

Fords Gin has garnered a popular bartending following (photo credit:  Eric Medsker)

In June last year, Jack Daniel’s owner Brown-Forman entered the fast-growing super-premium gin category with the acquisition of Fords Gin maker The 86 Company. The New York-based firm was launched in 2012 by Simon Ford, Jason Kosmos and Dushan Zaric.

Speaking to The Spirits Business last month, Maureen Brekka, senior vice‐president and managing director of Brown‐Forman’s global emerging brands division, said the group is “very open” to further acquisitions in the category.

“There are also additional attractive brands that could help us penetrate other occasions, markets or different price segments”, said Brekka, as well as “additional flavours” from classic London Dry to flavour forward gins.

On the group’s acquisition of Fords, Brekka said the company was looking at a number of gin brands. However, Fords Gin was attractive to the firm due to it being “one of the fastest‐growing in the US” and a “well‐credentialed London Dry with a modern twist” with a popular bartender following. The brand had a “genuine story, great product and a really passionate team that built it”, she explained.

Brekka also pointed to the double-digit growth of the super-premium-and-above category. She said: “The growth of super-premium-and-above segments are really extraordinary. Super-premium is growing by 24% and ultra-premium is growing at 42% CAGR. It’s a dynamic category right now and a really attractive place to participate.”

When it comes to global expansion, Brekka said the company is eyeing “large and fast-growing markets” for Fords. She said the group is looking at countries such as the UK, Germany, Spain, Australia and Brazil, while global travel retail is a “very attractive market”. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has postponed some of the firm’s expansion work “until the markets open up again”, she said. “We’re looking at early next calendar year to begin to aggressively expand into these markets. The brand has seeded in some of the top bars in these markets already. We see a tremendous amount of potential for Fords to enter and expand in those markets.”

Fords Gin sits within Brown-Forman’s global emerging brands division, which includes new brands and super-premium-and-above brands such as Slane Irish whiskey.

Brekka said the firm has “aggressive expectations” for Fords Gin. “We’re building for the long-term”, she said, pointing to the success of Woodford Reserve Bourbon, which surpassed one million nine-litre cases last year. “We invested all our profits back into it for 10 years to get it seeded in the right way,” Brekka explained. “It began to grow exponentially for 10 years – all the hard work paid off. We’ve seen that model work really well before.”

Education focus

Simon Ford, who is managing director of Fords Gin, is planning to put a focus on education and is creating an updated education programme, as well as building the brand’s reputation of pairing with oysters and Martinis.

Ford noted that as the gin is still a young brand, the firm’s strategy is to “consistently try to introduce it to the world”. He said: “Line extensions isn’t really part of the strategy. However, having fun with our recipe and gin is.” Fords Gin released its first new product last year, Officer’s Reserve, a 54.5% ABV gin rested for three weeks in Amontillado Sherry casks. The brand will also launch a limited edition sloe gin this year.

Ford said the gin category has been a “big catalyst of the craft spirits movement”. On the challenges of the category, Ford said: “The thing I witnessed in a few markets is that over saturation point that happened to vodka. Too many flavours. I still think innovation is driving some excitement and causing growth. The problem is: are people going to get fatigued? At the same time, I could be wrong.

“The value of Fords Gin is very traditional. We won’t do silly flavours any time soon. There’s a movement back to more traditional.”

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