Jean-Etienne Gourgues: Who is the new chief of Chivas?


On this two-year compound base, North America is up 19% and Western Europe is up 3%, with the UK standing out after enjoying 23% sales growth. Sales in China have grown 47%, India is up 21%, Brazil is up 60%, Colombia is up 52%, and there is also strong growth in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and Oceania. “We have gained market share in seven of our top 10 markets,” says Gourgues. “We are back to our long-term growth trajectory, and we are monitoring that very closely. We can supply the market, and we are very diligent in terms of product pricing. We are launching initiatives to offer different propositions into the market in order to maintain the growth. 

“In domestic markets where Covid is a bit lighter, the resurgence is very strong. We are higher than pre-Covid levels for our four core brands, and even higher for our other brands. It’s a great basis to start with. In the US, we have increased the moments of consumption. The o-trade has grown very significantly. The on-trade is back now too. We now have a bigger business, with more consumers enjoying our products, so it’s a great place to start with.” 

The priority is to maintain the momentum in mature markets like the US, France and the UK, while building up a head of stream in emerging markets. “China, India, Latin America and Eastern Europe are the future of the growth potential,” he says. “We will keep focusing on innovation and introducing new propositions into the market. Chivas 13 Cask Edition and Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve drove significant growth last year. We have more things coming in the months ahead to drive more growth.” 

When asked if there is a concern that emerging markets could be sluggish in the short term due to the uneven vaccine rollout, Gourgues emphasises the importance of agility. “It won’t be a straight line. The behaviour from one market to the next is extremely different. India, which has been very heavily hit in the past year, and is the biggest market for whisky, is certainly going to be in a better situation, so there’s an element of positivity. 

“It’s like rally racing – you need one foot to speed up, but you need one foot on the brake, and to steer to take the best opportunities. That’s how I would describe this year: cruising fast, but being very agile and understanding the market realities.” 

The company has received several boosts in recent months. The tariff wars have given way to a period of détente, which should make exports to the US a lot smoother and more profitable. Strike action was averted after union members voted to accept an improved offer from the company following further talks. Brexit is still causing logistical concerns, but Chivas Brothers is better placed to circumnavigate those issues than smaller producers thanks to its in-house expertise and its ability to ship bulk loads to the EU, and its sales in Europe are flourishing. 

Despite all the positivity around growth in key markets, there is a lingering sense that the Scotch whisky sector will not fully recover until travel retail rebounds. “It’s unpredictable. Traveller numbers are still very low. We expect a gradual recovery, but I would be surprised to see GTR at pre-Covid levels by June 2022. But I’m sure it will recover in a more targeted way, depending upon the ease of travel. There will be very significant opportunities on specific countries to activate our brands. It’s in government hands, but there is a true appetite for people travelling again, and we will go where there is opportunity. 

“If we look back over the past two years, we are almost ¤at, despite the big drop in travel retail. We are very confident that by this time next year it will be positive figures for the total business, and higher than pre-Covid. Home entertainment and consumption will keep on growing, the ecommerce dimension will play a very big role, and the on-trade recovery will provide a great boost.”