Not many people would care to contradict the world’s best loved spy with a penchant for settling issues with his fists. Fewer still would want to pick holes in 007’s super-suave veneer and dispute his style quotient. But 40-year-old Sven-Olaf Hansen does both.
Taking on James Bond’s much-hyped dry Martini, Hansen points out how a classic Martini has to be had with different levels of vermouth. “Probably, image-wise , James Bond has to drink a pretty dry one,” chuckles this Londoner.
Hansen should know. As Bacardi’s brand director for the super-premium Grey Goose vodka, he spends virtually every waking hour thinking of the spirit — and how Grey Goose can take a larger share of the luxury market. In a tête-à-tête with Moinak Mitra, this sailing enthusiast and father of two zeroes in on attributes that make brands stay at the top of the heap.
As a category, what are the growth patterns you’re seeing for vodka — and for vodka in the super-premium segment?
Vodka is the second market in international spirits, behind Scotch. It stands at 63 million cases, and is the fastest-growing category in the industry, at around 10%. The only other category growing as fast is tequila, but it is a quarter of the size of the vodka market. Of the 63 million cases, 7.6 million cases form the super-premium segment.
This is, by far, the most dynamic segment of the international vodka market, growing by 20% over a period of three years. Grey Goose encompasses 50% of this segment, and is available in 108 markets. We are present in the US and Canada and the Caribbean, besides other areas .
We see huge potential in the classical European market and in India and China.
We see India as a potential market because its economy is growing and people are looking at a premium experience. The numbers may still be small, but that is true for the classical European market as well. But in spirits, you need time.
So the most important thing is to build your brand on-trade and be present at the right places, to be recommended by bar-keepers and on-trade owners. This is where a big amount of our work goes in — education on the ground. About 50% of the time, our maître de chai (cellar master) travels the world to educate people about the values of the brand.
Today ’s premium brands may not necessarily be tomorrow’s premium brands. How do you ensure a constant premium edge, particularly in liquor, which is a perishable?
It is a question of balance between the brand’s image, which we build over time, and the brand’s quality aspects. Now Grey Goose has five differentiators that make it the world’s best-tasting vodka. First, it comes from Cognac in France, a region known for its good food and drinks.
Then, it is the first vodka having a maître de chai (cellar master) or a craftsman who provides his knowledge about spirits over generations. We at
Bacardi use this knowledge. Third, we use the best quality ingredients, like 100% French wheat used for French pastry. Fourth, we use spring water from the Cognac region. Lastly, we use the five-step distillation process to concentrate on the wheat. So this is what a luxury brand in super-premium spirits needs to do to keep its premium-ness alive over long periods of time.
Grey Goose is, by far, the market leader, being the fastest brand ever to reach the 1-, 2- and 3-million-case mark. In 2007, we’ve done 3.7 million cases. Grey Goose was rule-breaking when it started out because it was the first vodka which talked about taste. It is the third-largest selling vodka in the world after Smirnoff and Absolut. Grey Goose is followed by Stolichnaya and Skyy.
Who are the archetypal Grey Goose consumers?
Obviously, Grey Goose has a high price. So we are targeting the wealthier end of consumers. Our core consumers range from the 25-35 age group. The profile is very democratic in terms of males and females. Demand is also coming from well-educated people, living in or near urban centres. Clearly, we cater to a segment, which has achieved something in life and career.
There’s a perception that when standalone brands are acquired by large spirit brands, they tend to lose their identity. Considering Grey Goose was acquired from Sidney Frank in 2004, what are your thoughts on this?
I think it is very important that you stay true to the brand and work on its value proposition. In the case of Grey Goose, it had established rule-breaking precedents in the category. It was the first French vodka. Then, it was rulebreaking in terms of the packaging and taste. So the secret is to stay true to the brand over a long period of time and not to try catering to everybody at all times.
When Sidney Frank sold Grey Goose to Bacardi , he was very ill and passed away thereafter . He wanted to sell it to someone who could keep up the virtues of the brand. Bacardi understood the value proposition of the brand. From the time Bacardi took over in 2004, from a US success story, the company made Grey Goose an international success story. It accelerated the growth for the brand.
So multi-sourcing is a strict no-no to maintain Grey Goose’s top-end image?
Absolutely. Grey Goose is known to be a brand from Cognac. Just like Bacardi’s other vodka , Eristoff, which is a Georgian vodka. As a multinational company, if we change any one of the five differentiators (of Grey Goose), we run the risk of diluting the brand. The first maître de chai is still with the brand. He’s an expert in distillation and blending, and is developing new flavours and variants for the brand.
Premium-ness apart, how do you intend to trade up in India, where spirits are largely made from molasses, not wheat?
Vodka is unique in that sense because there’s no limitation to region or raw material. But the taste is significantly influenced from the region the product comes from. That’s the reason we’ve chosen 100% French wheat as raw material.
Isn’t there a preference worldwide for flavoured vodka over standard vodka?
There is, but again, in the case of Grey Goose, flavoured variants are actually increasing the footsteps of the brand. So we are looking for flavours that fit the brand, like the Anjou Pear and lemons from France, which deliver value and increase variety for the brand. But what we won’t do is having a surfeit of flavours. We will increase the number of flavours but won’t go on a flavour binge.
The general experience from other categories shows that after the fourth or fifth flavour, you have a significant amount of substitution. There is a fear of the brand over-stretching , and eventually , substituting itself. So we will have a limited number of flavours on Grey Goose.
6 months ago