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Campari CEO ‘open’ to whiskey deals

Italy’s Campari Group is open to further acquisitions in American whiskey and “very interested” in growing its Mexican portfolio, the company’s CEO has said.

Campari CEO Bob Kunze-Concewitz
Bob Kunze-Concewitz, CEO of Campari Group, is betting big on American whiskey

Last week, Wild Turkey owner Campari Group revealed it had agreed to acquire a 70% stake in Kentucky-based Wilderness Trail Distillery for US$420 million. The company has the option of buying the remaining 30% stake in the whiskey distillery in 2031.

Bob Kunze-Concewitz, CEO of Campari Group, said Bourbon was poised to become the company’s “second major leg after the apéritif portfolio”.

In an interview, the CEO said the company would “definitely be open” to making further deals in the American whiskey category.

“American whiskey is a very exciting category; it’s 15% of the value of the US market,” he said. “And the US is the largest profit pool in our industry. It’s growing very strongly; the overall category is growing at 7%. But if you look at super-premium it’s growing at 17%.

“We also believe that in the mid to long term, it’s a category destined to grow internationally. Currently internationally, it’s really two brands that are sharing the prize but I think consumers outside of the US are expecting a big step up in choice and in quality.”

Regarding the recent deal, Kunze-Concewitz said this was made because of the distillery’s positioning in the super-premium-and-above price range, and the founders being a “very good cultural fit”.

“We believe that the brand has legs and we like the range,” Kunze-Concewitz said. He also cited the brand’s high capacity, which would in the “mid to long term contribute quite a bit to the overall growth of our American whiskey portfolio.”

Kunze-Concewitz declined to comment on the company’s future plans for the distillery as the agreement is yet to close.

“It’s clear that the founders have already had laid out expansion plans for the distillery, so clearly we be contributing to the future growth,” he added.

In August, the firm took a 15% stake in banana-flavoured Bourbon Howler Head from Catalyst Spirits. And last month (October), Campari Group acquired a minority stake in London-based incubator Catalyst Spirits.

The Campari CEO sees opportunities in flavoured American whiskey, however he does not believe in adding flavoured line extensions to its existing Bourbons.

“We’d rather have brands dedicated to flavours and maintain our core Bourbon brands like Wild Turkey, dedicated to Bourbon – pristine, unflavoured,” he explained.

Agave spirits

Looking to the rest of the portfolio, Kunze-Concewitz cited the potential of Tequila, rum, liqueurs and “Italian specialities” like Campari.

Espolòn Tequila surpassed one million cases last year, he added.

“In the first quarter it grew by 54% this year, so it’s one of the fastest growing and the biggest successes in 100% agave Tequila in the world,” he said.

“Unfortunately, the US has been so prominent in taking all of the liquids that we haven’t really been able to internationalise it.

“We’ve, in the past 10 years, invested significantly in expanding the capacity of the distillery and that capacity will start coming on stream and we will continue to invest in it. I strongly believe in the global potential of the brand.”

The firm also acquired a majority stake in the Montelobos mezcal brand, which is “doing very, very well”, Kunze-Concewitz added. As part of the US$37.5m deal, Mexican liqueur Ancho Reyes also became part of the Campari Group stable.

“We’d be very interested in growing our Mexican portfolio as well,” he continued. “That can be done in two ways, clearly by acquisitions, and the other way is via internal development.”

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