American whiskey category in India growing at a CAGR of over 20% YoY: Vineet Agrawal

Jack Daniel’s is the world's highest-selling premium whiskey, which famously hails from Lynchburg, Tennessee, and with its strong pedigree for over 150 years has helped make it the top-selling American whiskey in the world.  Brown-Forman, maker of Jack Daniel’s, has picked India as one of the markets for increased investment as part of its global strategy 2025. Brown-Forman controls more than half the country’s American whiskey segment and has grown sales over 20% since the past five years, according to International Wine and Spirits Research (IWSR).

Jack Daniel’s has reinvented its marketing strategy and efforts with its largest global campaign in its history and introduced a new tagline – ‘Make It Count’. The brand’s philosophy has not changed in any way. The philosophy that the founder followed all his life has been reflected in the messaging throughout: every day we make it, we make it the best we can. The new ‘Make It Count’ tagline is just a modern-day adaptation of that philosophy which invites consumers to live boldly and enjoy the ride.

In an exclusive interview with Adgully as part of our weekly AG Talk column, Vineet Agrawal, Marketing and Commercial Director - India Area, Brown-Forman, spells out Jack Daniel’s plans for India and how this global iconic brand Jack Daniel is consolidating their position the country, consumer behaviour trends in the pandemic times, growing focus on creating great in-home experiences and much more.

India is a very strong whiskey market for middle level brands. As a premium brand, what has been your strategy to tap the market with Jack Daniel’s? Are you looking only at metros?

India is an important and strategic market for Brown Forman. In fact, India has been identified as one of the key emerging markets for Jack Daniel’s. We do recognise the potential and the opportunity that India presents for the premium segment and continue to drive our efforts towards leveraging this opportunity.

The American Whiskey segment in India holds a lot of promise and is witnessing increasing consumer interest and acceptance. Consumers are also upgrading to international spirits and are now open towards newer expressions of whiskey. To leverage this trend, we have introduced newer flavoured expressions of Jack such as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey and Cinnamon Based Jack Daniel’s Fire to consumers in India.

There has also been an increase in the cocktail culture and American whiskeys remain a preferred choice for whiskey-based cocktails.

We continue to invest behind driving distribution, not only in metro cities but other towns as well, to improve accessibility as well as increase brand awareness among consumers as we believe that there is tremendous potential for sustainable long-term growth.

The pandemic has disrupted every industry. How did you navigate those times to reach out to your customers? Did you explore any other channel apart from the traditional channels?

As the pandemic continues, the focus for Brown-Forman remains on prioritising the safety of our employees, meeting the needs of our consumers and business partners, and pursuing our long-term strategy. We recognise that these are challenging times and In the midst of all this, consumer and shopper sentiment and behaviours are shifting rapidly every day. While it is important to keep talking to people and our TG, it is important to be relevant and meaningful. As we are all aware, the pandemic has deeply impacted how people live their day-to-day lives and what their priorities are, as they cope with significant change and disruption. It is at moments like these, that we as marketers need to understand what consumers need and don’t need from brands right now, and in the foreseeable future.

During the pre-pandemic period, the two primary channels that we used to make our brands available to our consumers were off-premise or the retail stores and on-premise, which include pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. Off-premise has emerged as the key channel this year as people are still not very comfortable to step out to visit the on-premise stores and understandably, footfalls are still significantly lower than last year in this channel.

As consumption moved in home completely and DIY became a popular trend, we launched a special edition cocktail pack with Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey & Ginger Ale to enable consumers to experience our cocktail recipe Ginger Honey Jack at Home.

Another channel, which is still very small but holds promise for the future for our category, is e-commerce and online aggregators. Some states have allowed e-commerce and online aggregators to deliver alcohol to consumers to promote social distancing measures within the physical stores.

What has been your communication strategy? Who is your target audience for the India market? How have you positioned your brand to get visibility and attract the right audience for Jack Daniel’s?

If we talk about the pre-COVID-19 days, we were doing many activities and promotional initiatives to not only encourage new consumers to be a part of the Jack Daniel’s family, but also to engage with the existing Friends of Jack.

One of the most important things that we do is to try and tell consumers what makes American Whiskey and Jack Daniel’s special and different to other whiskeys. For example, every drop of Jack Daniel’s comes from Lynchburg in Tennessee, the place where Jack Daniel himself set up his distillery, the first registered distillery in the US, in 1866. Jack Daniel’s whiskey is charcoal mellowed, a unique process to Tennessee and the reason why Jack Daniel’s is a Tennessee Whiskey and not a Bourbon. All of this is of great interest to our consumers and trade partners.

The mixability of Jack Daniel’s is a strong platform for us. Jack Daniel’s is a versatile and easily mixable drink and there have been many initiatives that we have undertaken leveraging this.

Coming to the recent times, we launched our first ever global campaign for Jack Daniel’s, called ‘Make It Count’, last year in October. The intention behind the campaign was to inject new energy into the brand with the introduction of a new brand communication platform. As a brand that is globally loved and is found in more than 170 countries around the world, ‘Make It Count’ showcases a new way of thinking for the 154-year-old brand that celebrates the people who consume it.

Did you notice any behavioral changes and new consumption trends for whiskey after the pandemic? How has the market responded to the flavoured whiskeys?

One big trend that has emerged has been the spike in in-home consumption. With people venturing out less, in-home consumption is a big factor in consumers’ minds while making purchase decisions and given that most consumers prefer to stay indoors, categories and brands which elevate the in-home experience have seen good demand.  Also, most of the planned outdoor spends, particularly around the special events, are now being spent at in-home occasions and hence, consumers are more likely to indulge in premium spirits.

Tennessee Honey and Tennessee Fire are the two flavoured versions, the former made with a proprietary honey liqueur and latter with true cinnamon. These whiskies bring together two complementary tastes in a new way and leverage on the growing cocktail culture across the globe. Flavours not only give our current fans more choice and increase the occasions to drink our products, but also helps us attract new consumers to the Jack Daniel’s family.

How do you plan to consolidate your position in India as a brand? What will be the roadmap for the next 3 years?

Jack Daniel’s is a globally iconic brand. In India, Jack Daniel’s as a brand enjoys a pre-eminent status and we have been able to achieve considerable growth over the past few years, making it the No. 1 brand in the premium American whiskey segment in the country, as per industry research reports.

As per these reports, the American whiskey category is gaining rapid acceptance in India for the past several years and has been growing at a CAGR of over 20% every year. We intend to continue to educate consumers here about the nuances of the American Whiskey and building traction for the brand through our different consumer engagement activities. Along with this, we plan to significantly grow our super premium brand from the Jack Daniel’s Family of Brands – Gentleman Jack, which is a double charcoal mellowed whiskey.

We believe that we have the right portfolio in India to target the different consumer tastes and preferences in the country and the future for Jack Daniel’s in India is promising.

What kind of media strategy have you been deploying to generate awareness for the brand? With the acceleration of digital, how are you leveraging this medium?

We do use digital and social media channels extensively to reach out to our consumers as we believe that most of our audiences are on that medium. This has further accelerated post-COVID. In the absence of opportunities to engage with consumers on premise and through on-ground activations, we re-deployed our budgets to digital to maintain a dialogue and build recall with consumers.

We also make sure the brand is present in the retail spaces and point-of-sale to engage with consumers there as well and undertake many promotions in the retail environment. Apart from these, we undertake regular activities to engage with the channel, including bartenders and shop staff to educate them about our brand.


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