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BlogSpirits & Wines

Introduction by: Peter Marshall

The title of today’s blog says it all. As you will read, not only is Ian MacLeod making some major moves in global travel retail with the introduction of some unique product launches, the company has also cemented an exclusive distribution partnership with DISC for the Americas.

These are exciting times for the company and I had the opportunity to speak recently with William Ovens, Ian MacLeod’s Global Travel Retail Director, about the company’s products and plans.

Peter Marshall (PM):  William, welcome to trunblocked.com. Well, I really don’t know where to start this conversation. As a privately-held business, Ian MacLeod Distillers is 90 years young. The company has 18 brands and 48 products within its portfolio, which straddle mainstream to luxury and you also cover most of the spirits categories. When you get up in the morning, how do you focus on priorities for the travel retail channel? Perhaps you should start by reminding us of your core brands.

William Ovens (WO): The business was started in 1936 by Leonard Russell Senior as a whisky broking business and then blending and bottling followed. The company continued to expand and became a distiller in 2003 when it purchased Glengoyne. In 2005 Smokehead, a peaty malt whisky from the Island of Islay was born – as a disruptive alternative to the more traditional single malts from Islay. Then in 2011 the Tamdhu Distillery on Speyside was purchased and, most recently, the company bought Rosebank Distillery in 2019 from Diageo. Rosebank is widely recognised as the King of the Lowlands. Next year we will start building Laggan Bay Distillery on Islay and this will then mean we will have a distillery in the 4 main whisky producing regions.

In 2023 we launched the Speciality Malt Collection in GTR, which includes The White Cask, a first fill American Oak Speyside Single Malt, Shieldaig a traditional Highland Single Malt, As We Get It Highland Single Malt (a ‘straight from the cask’ proposition) and The Six Isles Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.

The company’s largest brand by volume is King Robert II, which is a top 3 value Blended Scotch in Global Travel Retail, with strongholds in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Another star in our portfolio is Edinburgh Gin, which was acquired by Ian Macleod Distillers in 2016. Edinburgh Gin was the pioneer of flavoured gin and is the number 1 Super Premium gin in UK Travel Retail. Launched in 2010, it was the first to introduce flavour to the category with the launch of Raspberry Gin liqueur.

PM: So, there is a lot to focus on via a relatively small team (in comparison to the large players) of 9 people managing GTR and SEA Domestic.

WO: It is a good question Peter, re. priorities! There is never a dull moment within IMD –  no day is ever the same. One benefit of being in a medium sized company is that we can take decisions quickly. On top of that, as you well know, Travel Retail is one of (perhaps the) most innovative market in the global spirits industry, so there is always a pipeline of NPD we are working on. I always say once we have launched this next product we will have some breathing space….. but that breathing space is soon filled with something else!

In short, my and the team’s main focus is around our core brands of Edinburgh Gin, King Robert, Glengoyne, Tamdhu, Smokehead and Rosebank. There is always a focus on NPD projects, and the lead up to the TFAP and TFWA is always very busy.  We have various regional / customer-led projects to focus on and I am always looking one step ahead. Two years ago the challenge was to find a way of unlocking our potential in Asia and the last year has been about finding the right RTM solution in the Americas. There is also a very exciting and innovative project going to come to life next year in a UK airport.

PM:  The spirits sector is increasingly competitive. If you blink, you almost miss another product launch in travel retail. Yet Ian MacLeod Distillers not only keeps launching successful products, you are also known to pioneer new categories within the market. You are an extremely agile and versatile business. How would you define the company’s DNA?

WO: Ian Macleod Distillers is a family owned and run business, which really values building long term relationships (internal and external). We are a friendly, unassuming business, and this comes from the top. Leonard Russell, our CEO, is extremely personable, approachable and sociable and cut from a different cloth to your standard Chief Exec. It just shows it is possible to be like this and steer the company on a very successful path!

We are also passionate about producing fantastic spirits. IMD is steeped in tradition but also innovative and open to new ventures. It’s an exciting place to work as we are always looking to evolve in a positive way and embrace opportunities.

IMD has a nice balance of having some established/scale brands but it also retains an entrepreneurial/unbureaucratic culture.

In terms of NPD, we have been quite successful, but aren’t consistently successful. To be truly innovative you need to be prepared to fail and pick yourself up again.

PM: Absolutely.  Ok, let’s get into it. As a business, your core markets are the UK, Europe and Asia. You have set your stall out on increasing your global footprint. But one size doesn’t fit all. China is a good example of that. How and what are you targeting over the next 12 months?

WO: We approach our development in a pragmatic way – given our size we can’t do everything at once.

Up until two years ago, our Travel Retail business was EMEA focused. At that point we decided to take on an experienced Regional Director for Asia Pacific Travel Retail, Kelvin Ng, who has really transformed our business.

We are now ready to expand our Global Travel Retail presence beyond EMEA and Asia Pacific.

I am delighted to share that from this month Ian Macleod Distillers has appointed DISC, a premium wines & spirits distribution business, as our exclusive distribution partner for Americas Travel Retail. Based in Miami, DISC was established in 2021 by Juan Gentile in partnership with regional distribution company, Promo International Inc.

 Juan  has extensive knowledge, excellent industry relationships and a proven track record in building premium brands in Travel Retail.  I have known Juan for many years, as we worked together in Edrington, so it is nice to have this connection.

We see real potential for our brands in this region. We have had a great deal of interest from key operators in the region and so this is a hugely exciting new chapter in the development of our Global Travel Retail business. In line with our domestic presence, DISC will initially focus on the US Travel Retail market, in particular key airport hubs and cruise ships.

There is a lot of experience within the DISC team and we are excited about building the business together.

PM: TFWA Cannes is fast approaching. What’s in store for the trade from Ian MacLeod that will be all-new that will excite them?

WO: We are really looking forward to meeting customers at TFWA Cannes this year and sharing our exciting plans for 2024 and beyond.

Firstly, we will showcase three new and exclusive Single Malt Scotch whiskies at the show, including two ultra-premium luxury expressions – one from Tamdhu Speyside Single Malt and one from Rosebank Lowland Single Malt.

IMD is launching the Remarkable Casks Collection, the first in a limited-edition series for Rosebank and Tamdhu 46 Years Old, an ultra-premium single cask bottling, introducing Tamdhu’s New Dedication Collection.  Both have been created exclusively for Global Travel Retail.

We have been enjoying positive momentum for our single malts – Tamdhu, Glengoyne and Rosebank, so much so that demand now exceeds supply for the existing expressions. We have seen particular success in Asia Pacific and undertaken several successful projects and activations with leading operators in the region. The new releases from Rosebank and Tamdhu allow us to maintain this momentum and build the luxury franchise in Global Travel Retail.

The Rosebank Remarkable Casks Collection will be available within select luxury Travel Retail operators. The Collection is curated especially for the global traveller and created from a vatting of five remarkable hand selected casks. This first release will be 31 Years Old and limited to 700 bottles. The RRP is approx £2,500.

Tamdhu 46 Years Old is an ultra-premium Global Travel Retail-exclusive single cask bottling from the New Dedication Collection and officially launches in 2024. The cask is one of the distillery’s finest and rarest sherry casks with only 100 numbered bottles available worldwide. Tamdhu 46 Years Old is presented in an individually hand-blown cut crystal decanter and stunning wood and brushed metal octagonal box and leather case. The RRP is approx £16,000.

We are also introducing Tamdhu’s Cuatro Reserva expression, which celebrates the distillery’s unique commitment and dedication to maturing exclusively in exceptional oloroso sherry oak casks. Cuatro Reserva’s role is to create an accessible entry point for the sherry wood aficionado into the award-winning Tamdhu luxury portfolio. The distillery manager, Sandy McIntyre, has selected four uniquely different oloroso sherry cask types from Tamdhu’s traditional dunnage warehouses in the heart of Speyside. Vibrant, first fill sherry casks are perfectly matched with the smooth balance of refill sherry casks and the fresh fruit of American oak casks complement the spiciness of European oak casks. Tamdhu Cuatro Reserva has an RRP of £76.99 and is a magnificent Speyside Single Malt for sherry wood connoisseurs.

PM: Of course, your fastest growing brand in GTR is Edinburgh Gin. Ian MacLeod Distillers was first mover in the flavoured gin segment and right now you have an exceptionally broad product mix under the Edinburgh Gin label that caters to just about every taste. 

Yet I understand that the brand is also now undergoing a major transformation. Tell us more.

WO: Yes Edinburgh Gin has been our star performer this year and we are really looking forward to seeing how this brand progresses in Global Travel Retail in the next few years.

At TFWA Cannes, we will unveil stunning new look packaging for Edinburgh Gin, which will launch in the channel early 2024. This new look packaging and branding, including a new bottle design, is the first time it has changed since IMD took ownership of Edinburgh Gin in 2016. We are extremely excited about rolling out the more sustainable new packaging, which will take the brand to the next level.

At the show, we are also delighted to introduce our new flavour, Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn, which will be widely available from December 2024, following a period of customer exclusivity. Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn has received rave reviews and picked up leading awards including the “Best Berry Gin” at the 2022 Scottish Gin Awards. It also won the only Gold Medal for flavoured gin at The Spirits Business Gin Masters and is a finalist in the Frontier Awards.

We very much look forward to Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn being a huge hit with both existing and new partners.

PM: Now, Edinburgh Gin’s joint venture with Plaza Premium at Edinburgh Airport is quite stunning. How is it performing and do you see this as a major opportunity to grow and showcase the brand in other Plaza Premium global locations?

WO: In 2022 Plaza Premium Group, the pioneers of independent Executive lounges in airports and the largest player in this sector, opened its new airside executive lounge at Edinburgh Airport, featuring a signature Edinburgh Gin bar as its centre (with the rest of the spirits brands offer being exclusively Ian Macleod brands)

This has been an important strategic partnership for the brand. The bar, which we believe to be the first of its kind with any spirits brand, allows us to share the brand’s craft, flavour and creativity with travellers in a stunning environment in its home city. We feel we can develop the consumer experience further and are looking to introduce new initiatives, including a ‘Whisky Flight’ made up of Glengoyne, Tamdhu and Smokehead. We are discussing other initiatives with Plaza Premium and we feel there is a very good fit between both companies.

PM:  Another showcase for Edinburgh Gin is going to be the new distillery opening up in Edinburgh, near Waverley station. How exciting a prospect is this?

WO: We are really excited about opening our new distillery next year. It will be a major tourist attraction and a wonderful new home for the brand, moving our distilling from two smaller sites to this central location very near Waverley Station. I am looking forward to enjoying an Edinburgh Gin on the rooftop terrace with stunning views over the ‘Athens of the North’!

PM:  What comes across to me is that, as a business, you are more than prepared to invest money for the future of the business where others may be more risk averse. There is plenty of evidence of capex on display this year and next with the openings of a new Indian Distillery at Una and one for Rosebank next year, as well as a brand new blending and maturation centre on Bandeath the Firth of Forth, also planned for 2024. There’s even going to be a new HQ. How much of a difference to the business will these four make in terms of efficiency and output?

WO: Yes, there are some serious capital investment projects happening just now, which will indeed make us more efficient (like Bandeath and the new HQ). But also those that will really step-change the scale, scope and profile of the business (like the Rosebank, Laggan Bay, Edinburgh Gin and Una distilleries). It is hugely exciting to be a part of the team! Our Financial Director, Mike Younger, has been leading these major projects, working in close conjunction with colleagues in Distillation and Production.

PM:  One of the things we haven’t covered, but which is core to the business, is your drive for sustainability. Can you take us through some of your key sustainable actions – ones where perhaps there may be learnings for other brands. 

WO: Ian Macleod Distillers is focused on delivering against our six sustainability pillars which are: reducing carbon emissions; promoting circular economy; protecting and preserving water; improving biodiversity; promoting Green Tourism and supporting our communities; and to developing our roadmap to net zero in a responsible way.

Both Tamdhu and Glengoyne (Spirits Business Master and Spirits Business Gold 2018) are award-winning for their environmental credentials and sustainability work.  We are particularly proud to have achieved a Green Tourism Gold Award for Glengoyne which is a testament to the excellent team we have at the distillery and to the brand’s focus on sustainability.

As well as creating packaging that can have a second life and using greater quantities of recycled content within our packaging, our ambition is to make more and more of our packaging easily recyclable and to find innovative, alternative and more sustainable packaging solutions across the range.

Glengoyne Distillery, just 20 miles north of Glasgow Airport, uses 100% renewable electricity source from wind turbines and, like Tamdhu, is investing in significant heat recovery technology to reduce our carbon emissions.

Glengoyne was also the first distillery to build a wetland facility to manage 100% of liquid waste and this is now home to over 14,500 plants and abundant wildlife, improving biodiversity in the surrounding area.  Glengoyne also sends its solid waste to a nearby anaerobic digestor where it is converted into renewable energy, with spent mashes providing enough electricity to power 354 local homes.

The brand is also a proud and long-term supporter of WWT (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust) and its focus on protecting and creating more wetlands which provide essential protection against climate change, floods, droughts and pollution.  They’re also vital for our health and wellbeing.

As a company, we are committed to sustainability and are working on our roadmap towards net zero and the company’s first ESG report to detail the journey we are on to make a difference.

PM:  So just how important is GTR to Ian MacLeod. What % does it currently represent in terms of the company’s overall turnover and what’s the target for the next 2 years?

WO: Global Travel Retail is a highly important and strategic channel for Ian MacLeod Distillers and is one of our top 3 markets by volume.

We currently have over 100 customers in GTR, spanning airports, airlines, ferries, cruise lines, diplomatic, border zones and military. A priority for us is to ensure targeted distribution and luxury visibility in the world’s leading airports for our Super and Ultra- Premium malts, including Glengoyne, Smokehead, Tamdhu and Rosebank.

The strategic importance of GTR to IMD is recognised by the fact that some of our finest and rarest malt whiskies are offered to the channel, including the oldest ever Glengoyne (53 Years Old) and the Rosebank Vintage Series. We also invest in impactful activations and visibility to build brand awareness and equity –  especially Edinburgh Gin and particularly in the airport channel.

Investment in the channel, with exclusives, activations and other projects, is a priority for the business as we see Global Travel Retail as an important showcase, reaching vast numbers of consumers and potential consumers as they travel and have time to get to know our brands.

PM: There’s a lot on your plate. Are you planning to grow your team?

WO: Our GTR team has steadily grown in recent years and includes a great mix of heavyweight GTR experience and highly talented younger team members.

Is there any way you could amend the final sentence to:

We also have Beth Findlay (ex Clydeside Distillery) managing the WDF Account. Keeping things working efficiently from a commercial operations perspective, we have two highly experienced commercial co-ordinators – Gwen Fleming (International Commercial Coordinator for GTR), Pauline Rooney (International Commercial Coordinator for Asia Pacific Travel Retail) and Derek Collins (GTR Shipping Exec).

PM:  One last question, Wiiliam. If there are three things you wanted to say to the travel retail trade right now, what would they be?

WO: I think the GTR industry collectively needs to be better at communicating and objectively proving the very significant brand-building benefits of GTR. It is in our interests to demonstrate the benefits a presence in GTR gives. In turn this will help secure funds for NPD, resourcing, retail space, advertising etc.

It has been said many times before, but airports, landlords and suppliers really need to work together in a closer and more collaborative way.

And get the balance right between work and play!


Peter Marshall

Founder: trunblocked.com/Marshall Arts

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