September 2009

The Tipping Point

By: Richard Carleton Hacker

In his best-selling book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, author Malcolm Gladwell describes the “tipping point” as “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable . . . . It's the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards.”

And this is exactly the phenomenon that Pernod Ricard is planning this fall for Jameson Irish whiskey, the category leader not only in the U.S., but the world. After all, what else can you do when you are clearly the number-one Irish whiskey, with over 67% of the market?

“Jameson is the shot of choice for all bartenders, and we pass on our recommendations to our customers.” says Jordan Cressman, Managing Partner at Sharkeez in Hermosa Beach, CA.

“I sincerely feel that even though this category, and Jameson in particular, has been experiencing tremendous growth, we are at a point where we can accelerate even faster,” says Wayne Hartunian, Brand Director, Jameson, for Pernod Ricard USA.

Going the Distance

Indeed, according to U.S. Nielson numbers for the past 52 weeks (ending June, 27, 2009), Irish whiskey sales have risen 21%, and within this category, Jameson was up by 28%, having increased 35% in the last four weeks alone. Clearly, Jameson is the driving force, and there are a number of reasons for its leadership position. With a 229-year heritage established by John Jameson in 1780, it remains unique among blended Irish whiskeys. In fact, the philosophy behind Jameson can be compared with that of a single malt; every aspect, from “grain to glass,” is controlled by the distillery.

Jameson adheres to a centuries-old tradition of combining both malted and unmalted (“green”), unpeated barley in its distillation. There are no traces of smoke; instead, a much more complex, yet subtle, flavor is created. This is further enhanced by a base of triple-pot-distilled whiskies, which adds body to the spirit. These are then married with highly refined column-distilled whiskeys. The carefully honed vattings are subsequently aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry oak casks. The result is a golden-hued, honey-flavored whiskey, enhanced with a sherry sweetness and spicy notes.  It is uniquely Jameson—a style long embraced by mixologists and food and beverage professionals throughout the world.

At the Crossroads

Jameson’s market dominance, versatility and distinctive taste position it for a steadily expanding consumption pattern that will extend throughout the year, not just during the traditional peak seasons of St. Patrick’s Day and the holidays. Consequently, one of the thrusts of an Irish Whiskey Category Management initiative developed by Pernod Ricard USA is to encourage off-premise retailers to increase their facings to include smaller sizes that will encourage sampling, and—more dramatically—to relocate the shelf sets away from the scotch section and closer to premium North American and Canadian brown spirits, placing the brand in a cross-selling category.

 “Our data shows our consumer is more likely to shop in the bourbon and Canadian whisky sections, rather than scotch,” says Hartunian. “From a strictly commercial standpoint, there’s a lot more traffic in those sections than in scotch, because the bourbon section is much larger in terms of value. And from a marketing standpoint, Irish whiskeys consumers have more similarities with bourbon drinkers than with scotch drinkers. Scotch drinkers tend to be older and a little further along in their whisky journey, whereas Irish whiskey is growing in popularity among the desirable younger LDA consumers; we index very heavily with 21- to 24-year-olds, as well as with the 25- to 34-year-old segments. Another key point is the importance of providing larger and more frequent displays throughout the year, supported by very strong Nielsen volume lift data versus other categories when on display.”  

Marty Durkin, Southern Wine & Spirits Vice President, Sales and Marketing for Pernod Ricard USA, agrees. “The phenomenal growth of Jameson is a testament to the product and its approachability, even for those who aren’t traditional whiskey drinkers,” he says. “We’re finding that it’s very well accepted by bourbon consumers and even scotch drinkers. The younger consumer has definitely picked up on Jameson.”

To further escalate Jameson’s campaign, which will be launched this fall, 15- and 30-second television spots will be airing on national cable television—a first not just for Jameson, but for Irish whiskey. While industry media spending is down approximately 20%, Jameson spending will be increased roughly 100%—an aggressive level.

Versatile Appeal

Jameson’s soaring popularity, especially with a younger crowd, is definitely reflected at the Viceroy hotel in Santa Monica, California, a vibrant resort destination for socialites, sophisticates, and celebrities.

“We go through about five to six bottles of Jameson a week, and it’s not even on our drink menu,” says Thomas Rekasis, F&B Manager and spirits buyer for the Viceroy’s über-hip Whist restaurant and Cameo Bar. “On Saturday nights our bar is five to six people deep, so we really don’t have time for complicated cocktails.”

At the Viceroy’s Cameo Bar in Santa Monica, Food & Beverage Manager/spirits buyer Thomas Rekasis (left) and mixologist Aaron Lyles (center) stand by as Richard Carleton Hacker discovers why The Maple cocktail is a Jameson favorite with customers.
 Versatility matters to a busy bartender. “That’s why Jameson works so well,” notes Rekasis; “it goes with so many ingredients. Like Jameson and Ginger, for example. We also have a cocktail made with honey, soda and Jameson, to bring out more of those sweet note flavors. You don’t have to overdo a cocktail. And if it can be made quickly, you can serve the crowds quickly, as opposed to making them wait ten or twelve minutes for a drink. That’s what keeps our customers coming back. Jameson has a very distinctive favor, but it is so versatile for the bartenders that it’s fun to use; I think that’s one of the reasons we go through so much of it.”

“It’s not one or two things that are driving the category,” notes Hartunian; “it’s based on a broad set of dynamics. This signals true brand health and significant long-term growth potential.  Consumers are seeking something beyond white spirits and are starting to look for more variety. Another key factor, from an on-premise standpoint, is that Jameson has a very high percentage of its volume in this environment, which is where trends are set—a great indicator of the health of a brand. And increased success in on-premise sales leads to increased off-premise demand as well.”

Shelf category transitions, increased facings and P.O.P. for off-premise sales, plus wait staff recommendations of Jameson to on-premise consumers (40% of beer drinkers readily make the transition to a more profitable pour of Jameson) are only some Tipping Point potentials. “It just demonstrates how committed Pernod Ricard is to the brand in terms of supporting it, as well as recognizing Jameson’s huge potential,” says Hartunian.

The clamoring crowds at Whist and the Cameo Bar would definitely agree.

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