All change at Diageo Global Travel

There is a new man at the helm of Diageo Global Travel, the largest drinks supplier to the duty free industry.

 Eduardo Barp, previously the company’s general manager Caribbean & Central, with more than 11 years under his belt at Diageo, is to take over from Dayalan Nayager on January 1. Nayager is moving to a new role as managing director for Great Britain, Ireland and France after nearly two and a half years in the one of the biggest jobs in duty free.

He leaves Diageo’s travel retail business in good shape – according to the IWSR, four out of its top five-selling brands in duty free recorded growth last year (Johnnie Walker, Baileys, Captain Morgan, Gordon’s and Tanqueray). Only Smirnoff suffered a volume decline. Nayager’s tenure coincided with a significant amount of internal upheaval for the company, most notably the relocation of the Global Travel team’s headquarters from Singapore to London in early 2017. Diageo’s growing Middle Eastern and North African domestic businesses were also separated from the Global Travel division.

Johnnie Walker, the best-selling liquor brand in duty free with annual sales of more than 2.5m cases in 2017, remains Diageo Global Travel’s number one priority, accounting for around one in 10 bottles of spirits sold in duty free. A continuous programme of new product development at different price points and a high-level investment in branded in-store corners and standalone Johnnie Walker Houses have helped the brand stand out in the blended whisky category – a sector that is often criticised for its failure to innovate and appeal to the millennial generation.

Indeed, I was in London in late October for the unveiling of yet another high-end Johnnie Walker variant – Johnnie Walker Blue Label Ghost and Rare Port Ellen. At a special launch event, complete with a menu created by Diageo’s new global gastronomer, Mark Moriarty, and a poetry recital by Hollywood actor Stanley Tucci, guests were able to sample this limited edition release crafted by master blender Jim Beveridge. It includes three whiskies from now-closed ‘ghost’ distilleries, most notably Islay’s Port Ellen.

The Johnnie Walker production line isn’t only aimed at the well-heeled, however. The limited-edition Johnnie Walker Black Label Triple Cask Edition travel retail exclusive, which launched earlier this year at more than 300 Dufry stores, is priced at under £30. Similarly, the new Game of Thrones-themed White Walker by Johnnie Walker, unveiled in October, is positioned at just $36 (£27.50) a bottle.

The need for a Diageo to cater for every type of traveller was a theme picked up by Anna MacDonald, marketing and innovation director at Diageo Global Travel, who I met at the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes. She told me: “We need to limit the thinking ‘if we can only get people to buy one litre of spirits, let’s get them to buy the most expensive litre there’. That is quite limiting.

“While there are people who want to buy a £1,000 bottle of malt whisky, there are lots of people for whom that’s simply not on their radar, no matter how beautiful that bottle is. The bigger opportunity is to meet a variety of consumer needs with a variety of different categories and price points,” she added. “Diageo is well placed to capitalise on that because we play in loads of different categories with different brands at different price points.”

For many years, the aim for most drinks companies active in duty free has been to try to get travellers to trade up, but as MacDonald’s comments suggest, in an age increasingly dominated by low-cost travel, that single-focus strategy is no long as effective as it once was.