What's in a name? Campbell Distillers' identity crisis

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Related tags: Pernod ricard, Scotch whisky

Campbell Distillers has been going through something of an identity crisis.On the one hand, it is proud of its heritage as a producer of...

Campbell Distillers has been going through something of an identity crisis.

On the one hand, it is proud of its heritage as a producer of world-leading Scotch whiskies dating back more than 300 years.

But at the same time, it wants to be seen as a modern business marketing and distributing rum, wine, bourbon and other spirits from around the globe.

Last month it took a major step to prove that it really has moved on from its roots in the burns and glens of the Scottish highlands.

Part of international drinks giant Groupe Pernod Ricard, it has reinvented its spirits arm as PR Brands UK.

While it retains the name of Campbell Distillers for whisky production and the companies' register, the new identity is the face it now shows to the trade.

Ian Tottman, who remains as general manager, said: "Our old name reflected where we came from in terms of history but did not reflect what we currently do. People thought of us as only a Scottish producer of whisky, when we are the distributor of a broad range of Groupe Pernod Ricard's brands."

The name change prepares the business for acquiring new products for the UK market as well as opening up opportunities for launching foreign ones already belonging to its French parent company. This is likely to become more significant if the rumours are true that Pernod Ricard is preparing to make a bid for one of its rivals.

The Paris-based group took control of the Scottish whisky producer, known as House of Campbell, 25 years ago. Dating back to 1879, the UK business brought the key brand of Clan Campbell which has been the world's fastest growing Scotch whisky for the past two years.

However, the blend is not so well-known to pubgoers in this country since its key markets are overseas, such as Australia and the United States.

In the UK, Campbell Distillers is best known for its single malt, Aberlour, which is produced at a 173-year-old Banffshire distillery.

Again, it is growing internationally, particularly in France, Spain and the United States. Consumer advertising for the 10-year-old Aberlour has focused on the subsidiary's history, making reference to the legendary Celtic beast, the Fachan, which is said to come from the hills around Aberlour.

Its second malt, the Edradour, is growing from a smaller base. Founded in 1825, it has seen considerable investment since it was acquired by House of Campbell 17 years ago.

After expanding the whisky portfolio, Pernod Ricard took Campbell Distillers into a new era in 1988 by merging it with wine and spirits distributor JR Parkington.

The wines, led by Australia's Jacob's Creek, are handled by another Campbell Distillers' business, Caxton Tower Wines.

As well as the whiskies, PR Brands UK markets and distributes a broad range of spirits found on the backbars of pubs across the UK. This includes two of the top five imported whiskeys — Jameson and Old Bushmills from Ireland — which it acquired in the 1988 takeover of Irish Distillers, along with Paddy and Powers.

Jameson sits comfortably as the number one Irish whiskey, supported by a heavyweight consumer advertising campaign with the strapline "What's the rush?".

As scotch whisky struggles in the UK, it is whiskey with an "e" which is enjoying growth, particularly with younger people.

This is pushing up sales of Black Bush, the premium version of Old Bushmills which is a leading whiskey in its native Ireland. Young people are also driving up PR Brands UK's American bourbon, Wild Turkey, although it has a little way to go before catching up with rivals Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam.

A heavyweight trade advertising campaign has placed the company's white rum Havana Club in new outlets, especially stylish bars. While Bacardi continues to dominate and grow in a declining sector, PR Brands UK is making inroads into the small slice that is left over.

Volumes of Havana Club, which exploits its identity as the only rum still made in Cuba, have grown at a rapid pace since Campbell Distillers took it over three years ago. Last year alone volume grew by 50 per cent, boosted by its popularity as a cocktail ingredient.

The involvement of Pernod Ricard naturally brings aniseed-based spirit Pernod to the UK portfolio. It remains a must-stock for virtually every pub, which has been achieved through targeting 18 to 24-year-olds.

PR Brands UK is investing heavily in promotions for Pernod in bars and clubs in a link-up with Club 18-30, backed by a marketing spend of £500,000.

Before last month's relaunch, Campbell Distillers was already testing the waters of new markets with the introduction of Newtons Apple Schnapps and Soho lychee spirit.

However, one long-established brand is quietly plodding away — the ruby-red wine-based aperitif Dubonnet, which is notable as the Queen Mother's favourite tipple.

While PR Brands UK's portfolio is strong in several sectors, the international range handled by Pernod Ricard includes many other world-leading products, such as anis-based Ricard, Czech fruit liqueur Becherovka, absinthe-like Pastis 51 and Larios — the world's number three gin.

"With our new identity, there are possibilities that the division could represent other Groupe Pernod Ricard brands in the UK," Tottman said. "But we are still on a growth curve for our current leading brands and there's a lot for us to do before we are diluted by a broader portfolio."

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