Launch analysis: The Chivas Brothers’ Blend

Joe Bates talks to global brand director James Slack about Chivas Regal’s biggest duty free exclusive launch in the brand’s history

It’s been a strange time of late for Pernod Ricard. The French multinational has, of course, been mourning the sudden death this August of its CEO and chairman of 34 years Patrick Ricard, the man who oversaw the transformation of his father’s company into the world’s second largest wines and spirits producer.

Yet, at this time of sorrow, the group’s enviable roster of premium brands is flying higher than at any time since the onset of the credit crunch, thanks in main to the seemingly unquenchable thirst of consumers for premium spirits in emerging markets.

Chivas Regal, with its enviable global following in 150 countries, stretching from China to Venezuela, and its reputation as the first luxury whisky, is undoubtedly one of Pernod’s brightest stars. For proof look no further than the company’s latest annual results. In the year ending this June the 4.9m-case brand enjoyed global volume growth of 7% and higher value growth of 11%.  

As Alexandre Ricard, the Ricard family member who will take the helm from 2015, knows well, duty free has been one of the main drivers of growth for Chivas Regal in recent years (Alexandre ran the company’s booming Asian travel retail operations from 2006 to 2008). Indeed, almost one purchase of Chivas Regal in every five is made in duty free, and that ratio rises to one bottle in three for the higher-priced, super-premium Chivas Regal 18 Year Old. 

“Travel retail is vital for us,” says James Slack, Chivas Regal’s genial global brand director. “Within the travel retail arena we have recently hit the 1m-case milestone. We are pleased with that, but it is also important we innovate, create energy and support the travel retail category by making our products available in different formats.”

At Cannes this month Chivas Brothers will do just that, reaffirming the significance of this channel of distribution to the brand by launching arguably the most important Chivas Regal travel retail exclusive to date. The Chivas Brothers’ Blend is a permanent 12-year-old exclusive addition to the brand family, created to honour the legacy of John and James Chivas – the Victorian-era brothers who, in the 1850s, famously started to blend high-quality, smooth-tasting whiskies for the affluent clientele of their grocery shop on Aberdeen’s King Street.

Slack says the new whisky intensifies Chivas Regal’s trademark flavour profile. “The Chivas Brothers’ Blend is a rich, soft flavour profile with lots of fruit flavours, and a very creamy texture. The Chivas Regal house style has always been strong on [the brand’s signature malt] Strathisla, but we wanted to accentuate that so we dialled up the proportions of both Strathisla and Longmorn. This helped [master blender] Colin Scott create what we believe is an ultra-smooth whisky.”

Although it is no older than the entry-level Chivas Regal 12 Year Old, the higher malt content of the Chivas Brothers Blend means it lands on the shelf with a 20% higher price tag. The bottle and packaging will also help set it apart from its celebrated sibling. “The outer carton is purple and finished with gold and silver writing,” says Slack. “The style and shape of the bottle is in keeping with the Chivas Regal family, but we have really stripped it down. The heavy ornate crest is still there, but the real hero is the name ‘Chivas Brothers’ Blend’.

“Consumers are definitely going to be able to differentiate the two whiskies,” he adds. “We think it will attract new consumers to the brand, and reappraisal in the case of existing Chivas drinkers, giving them the opportunity not only to purchase as a gift, but also to try something new within the Chivas range.”

The new whisky’s purple cap and outer carton is no random choice of colour, but one intended to catch the eye of an increasingly important group of travelling customers for the brand – the mainland Chinese. “We are the leaders in the Chinese market,” says Slack. “Pernod Ricard China has a lot of insights into Chinese consumers so we work closely with them to make sure we appeal to the Chinese traveller and never more so than with the Brothers’ Blend. Purple is a key indicator of wealth in the Asian community.”  

Emerging markets

China and the Chinese traveller are of course key targets for the Chivas Brothers’ Blend, but as Slack is keen to point out, the overall Chivas brand has a big following in just about every corner of the globe. “We have a good, strong emerging market base in Asia, Latin America and some of the up-and-coming eastern European countries,” he notes. 

Even African duty free, although tiny and undeveloped in relative terms, holds potential for the Chivas Brothers brand, especially in oil-rich countries such as Nigeria. 

“Africa is a burgeoning area for us,” says Slack. “What we do know, though, is that the market is still embryonic. There is still a massive beer culture in Africa and international spirits have only just started to get any traction there. Yet we are very focused on developing the region’s potential, and over the next 12-15 months you will see lots of activations planned for those markets.”  

The Chivas Brothers’ Blend goes live in global travel retail on October 1 and will be the focus of a big launch event down in Cannes later in the month. 

But after the initial launch excitement and media attention have faded the key to the new whisky’s ultimate chances of success will lie in how well and extensively the product is marketed and promoted. To that end, a global travel retail teaser campaign entitled A New Arrival from Chivas has been running at key airports in recent months to arouse curiosity.

Once the product is on shelf, Pernod Ricard Travel Retail will push the button on a suitably high profile (and no doubt costly) airport promotional programme in an effort to create and sustain interest in the new whisky. 

Tasting will be a key element of in-store activities, but a number of as yet undisclosed activities will also take place on the concourse and at other airport locations with high passenger flows.

Details surrounding this ambitious promotional campaign for the Chivas Brothers’ Blend are a little hazy at this early stage – the press release announcing the launch talks “digital interaction” and “innovative consumer engagement activities”, for instance. 

However, retailers will be reassured that Pernod Ricard Travel Retail has an excellent track record of staging successful promotional initiatives for Chivas, many of which are contemporary in style and approach.

Promotoinal tactics

A good example of this tactic was Chivas Regal’s tie-up last year with the ultra-exclusive Parisian nightclub chain Le Baron which, in addition to its original Paris club now boasts hip outposts in New York, Tokyo and London. The Art of Hosting campaign, which subsequently ran at airport shops around the world over the first half of 2012, centred on a limited-edition gift pack of Chivas Regal co-branded with Le Baron. The pack featured a digital card, which allowed travellers to access music mixed by the Le Baron Club DJ, and films made by the club’s charismatic founders, André and Lionel, on how to be the ultimate host.

“I really liked the Art of Hosting partnership with Le Baron,” says Slack. “It allowed us to introduce modernity and remind consumers that there is an energy and optimism about the Chivas Regal brand.”

Blending tradition and modernity is what Chivas Regal has become rather good at. This is the spirit after all that encouraged Chinese consumers to drink the brand with that most untraditional of scotch whisky mixers, green tea – a simple serve which has transformed Chivas Regal’s fortunes in the country over the past 10 years. It’s a safe bet to expect tartan, bagpipes or stags won’t form any part of the marketing campaign for the new Chivas Brothers’ Blend. But joking aside, Pernod Ricard has high hopes for this latest addition to one of the world’s most famous whiskies.