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A drink with… Jim Clerkin, Demeter & Co

The former CEO of Moët Hennessy North America tells us about his new drinks firm, Demeter & Co, and how it plans to shape global brands.

Jim Clerkin co-founded Demeter & Co
What is your industry background?

I started with Guinness after college. I was then recruited by Grand Metropolitan, which at the time was one of the world’s biggest wine-and-spirits firms. They asked me to run a company called Gilbeys. Grand Metropolitan then merged with Guinness, which then became part of Diageo.

In 1999, when I moved to the US Diageo asked me to look after the West Coast business for two years. I came here thinking I would be here for two years, and here I am 20 years later. More recently I was Moët Hennessy North America’s CEO, before deciding to create my own business.

Why did you decide to launch Demeter & Co?

At Moët Hennessy, I got more involved with mergers and acquisitions. Along the way I met Jeff Menashe [Demeter & Co co-founder], who is an investment banker. I remember saying to Jeff that I would love to do something like this on my own, and he said ‘let’s do it together’.

How would you describe your firm?

We will develop adult beverage brands that will be very deeply informed by consumer insights, and the cultural landscape. We want to build premium global brands with a digital-first approach, and make sure the brand is scalable. We’re working with Clean Co, which is our first brand.

How do you plan to shake up the industry’s method of building brands?

It starts with the people. We’re picking some of the most experienced and highly qualified people in the industry. With the brands, they must be from an area where we see ‘white space’. We won’t ignore the on-trade and the traditional ways of getting into the market, but we will have a digital-first approach. Each brand has a co-partner, and we will build our social media around our co-founders.

What partners or brands are you looking for?

I was introduced to [Clean Co founder] Spencer Matthews through a mutual friend. Every piece of research I did showed that US consumers were looking for alternatives to alcohol. I got this opportunity with Clean Co: it has a fantastic name, beautiful packaging and sensational liquid. Then we started looking at white spaces in other areas. There is fantastic growth in premium and super-premium Tequila in the US. The second brand we will launch later this year is a super-premium Tequila. It’s too soon to reveal the name.

Are you looking at other categories?

We have signed a partnership with one of the most famous actresses in the world, who will become our partner in a female-founded American whiskey. Insight shows that 37% of all whiskey consumed in America is consumed by women.

What is your plan with these brands?

We launched Clean Co in 10 states. The idea is to make sure efforts are noticed by consumers, create a reputation and then build it out. We want to build global brands and get consumer traction in America first.

Once you’ve established a global brand, where do you go from there?

When we get a brand to a certain level of volume that would bring a certain valuation, which we expect to happen in three to four years, we would offer the brand up for sale – either to strategic partners, individuals or investors. If we achieve the levels of success that we would like, then the brand would be sold, and we’ll bring in another one. We take a stake in the brands we partner with.

What are your plans this year?

We’re rolling out Clean Co in the States, and then in Canada. We’ll launch the Tequila this summer, and the American whiskey by the start of 2023. We will launch a Clean Co ‘whiskey’ in the US towards the end of this year and bring Clean Co’s pink ‘gin’ to the States.

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