Diageo pledges to continue blazing a trail of innovation
The UK’s largest spirits supplier has a new general manager after Charles Ireland took over from Andrew Cowan at Diageo GB.
He gave his first interview to none other than OLN, and in it he pledged to keep innovation at the heart of the company’s offering.
Ireland said: “I have a big commitment to innovation. Especially in today’s world, companies like ourselves need to attend to our portfolios to make sure they are kept vibrant and relevant.
“To be successful in future we have to keep innovating and developing our portfolio. We cannot and must not let what we are offering our trade partners, and through them consumers, get stale. I look at the UK market as being incredibly competitive and dynamic, and in that environment we have to competitive and dynamic too.
“Over the last few months we have released Haig Club Clubman, released beer through the Guinness Brewers Project, we have brought Smirnoff cider into the market, just to name three offerings that have come almost since I’ve been here, and we have a really strong pipeline that I am really excited about launching into the market to keep shaping our own success in this very exciting market.”
Ireland is a 19-year Diageo veteran and started his career at Diageo GB in the Guinness organisation. He spent 10 years in Asia and has recently been heading up the firm’s East Africa division. It puts challenges like range rationalisation, a weak pound and the health lobby into perspective when your previous challenges include simply getting drinks from A to B as civil wars rage on, but Ireland is relishing the new role.
“I have built a career and experiences around the world, including 10 years in Asia, and they have helped me gain deep understanding of the industry,” he said. “I have got an international perspective of consumers and working with retail partners, and all of that sets me up to be able to make a big contribution and I am really looking forward to it.
“A couple of months in at Diageo GB, my observation is that the company has changed a lot in my 13 years away, lots of it for the better, but some really tough stuff – the trading environment is brutal in many ways, especially in the off-trade, and Diageo has really strengthened its offering over the last few years. As a business we try hard every single day to create strength in our brand portfolio through our commitment to advertising and promotional activity. We try hard every day to partner really well with retailers, and we work really hard to create a working environment where we recruit and retain the best talent in the market to do incredible work. I feel really honoured and privileged to serve the business in the capacity that I am.”
When asked if there are any channels in which he sees a strong opportunity, he said: “ We have a great business. We are now into our fourth year of continuous growth in a tough marketplace. We have some amazing brands and that hasn’t happened by accident. But there are opportunities. Haig Club Clubman is something we have developed. We are really proud of the work we have done with David Beckham and the Nineteen Corporation to create something which I hope is going to help British consumers have a fresh look at Scotch whisky.
“The opportunities for us as a supplier of some of the world’s greatest brands is to keep our market sectors vibrant and keep engaging with consumers. Consumer tastes and preferences and outlook is changing all the time. I work with a couple of hundred millennials at Diageo and the team are very different on their perspectives on the world and their attitude to life than people more of my age group. I find it invigorating and inspiring.”
He sees convenience and supermarkets as opportunities, and appreciates they come with different challenges. “The UK is changing,” he said. “People are shopping more frequently on smaller baskets than they were 10 years. High street and neighbourhood retailing is very important. The convenience shop used to be described as a top up shop and that’s a less relevant way of describing it nowadays. Within Diageo GB we have very deep partnerships with convenience and specialist retailers and ones we are working hard to develop further.
“It’s a fair observation that different retail offerings have different challenges. The big supermarket offerings have challenges, getting noticed in a range of 100 SKUs, smaller retail offerings have challenges around merchandising and availability of a suitable range of products and we are working hard to create success for ourselves and retailers, by developing smaller formats, by making sure we have promotional activities tailored for smaller retailers, and our performance in that sector of the retail market has been strengthening.
“I really believe that in business you make your own luck and the work we have been doing on building our brand equity and making sure that we have got relevant and impactful advertising and promotional activity and we are innovating to keep our brands contemporary and constantly reappraised by consumers is standing us in good stead and our market share over the past few years has been growing and healthy. I absolutely know that there is no place for complacency in today’s marketplace. We have to work hard to create our own success.”