Premium and super-premium whiskies, like Teeling Irish Whiskey, are poised to lead category growth over the next four years. Whether you spell it with or without an ‘e’ Vinexpo forecasts that whisk(e)y sales will hit 443 million cases by 2021*. Stephen Teeling, sales and marketing director at Teeling Whiskey, explains the company’s approach.
Q: What are the major challenges to growing sales of Teeling Whiskey outside Ireland?
A: We are currently selling in 55 countries but route to market has always been our major challenge. Large multinational competitors own or control distribution in many countries worldwide. Our goal has always been to lead with the liquid and to put whiskey to lips which enables us to tell our story. Not owning our own distribution or having a sales forces makes this very difficult.
Q: What are your top three target overseas markets?
A: The USA is a top international market where we sell in over 30 states. We have taken a focused approach to 6 key states (New York, California, Illinois, Texas, Massachusetts and Washington D.C.) supporting within these markets Irish brand ambassadors who have been trained in our distillery. Second is Ireland where we are the fastest growing brand domestically and third is France. But we cannot ignore countries like Germany, Sweden and the UK.
Q: What are your fastest-growing markets?
A: In the last six months we have been very successful in Sweden where we are listed with the state-owned Systembolaget. The U.S. continues to expand and we grew our business by 25% + in 2017 and our domestic expansion in Ireland has been at 20%+ YoY for the last 3 years. We recently have started to see Asia start to perform with China, Vietnam and the Philippines showing real promise.
Q: What constraints are there to growing sales overseas?
A: Generating awareness of Irish whiskey outside Ireland is a big challenge. Irish whiskey accounts for 5% of the world whiskey market. But it is evolving. Whisky drinkers are interested in smaller, local whiskies and the story of Teeling fits that interest.
Q: What marketing strategies are in place?
A: My father said, ‘No matter what you do, don’t scrimp on quality’. Ensuring quality and putting whisky to the lips of the bar trade and consumers is the core of our marketing strategy. In fact, our liquid is our main communication tool. It reveals all the aspects of quality distillation and maturation. Our city-centre distillery in Dublin is unique and very popular, especially with foreign visitors from countries like the USA and Germany. We had 125,000 people visit in 2017 and coming up on our 3rdanniversary of opening for tours we are on track to hit 300,000 visitors to Dublin’s first new distillery in over 125 years.
Q: How much investment has been put behind Teeling in the last three years?
A: While we have invested €10 million in the distillery, our major investment is in people. We have grown from ten employees to 95; that includes 12 brand ambassadors and full-time BAs in the USA, Hong Kong and Australia. Others travel widely working with the trade in, for example, the UK, Germany, Finland and the Netherlands. The larger brands tend to chase volume in the standard segment of the market, however, we have always pushed to be the leader of segmentation within the Irish category. At Teeling we want to excite whiskey drinkers and introduce them to premium expressions they might not know existed.
Q: How knowledgeable are consumers in Europe and the USA about Irish whiskey?
A: There is serious work to be done in raising the profile of Irish whisky. While whiskies like Scotch and Bourbon are growing worldwide, Irish whiskey is still only catching up. Back in 2013 when we exhibited at Whisky Live in London it was hard to get people interested. Now Irish whiskey has much greater awareness. Advertising and marketing by the major brands also helps us to generate awareness of Irish whiskey by recruitment and we are there to show them the breadth and diversity that can exist within Irish whiskey.
Q: How important is education in Teeling’s promotional mix?
A: Advocacy is crucial: 50% of our marketing budget is based on education and generating dialogues with our customers, trade and consumers.
Q: Can you give an example of a Teeling whisky education programme?
A: Our brand ambassadors’ relationships are key and our distillery is a focus on training. In the last year we have hosted four educational trips in which we fly into Dublin mixologists and bartenders from, world famous bars in New York, or London. The sessions are not just about the Teeling brand; they span a range from creative cocktail classes, to setting up a bar and bar management.
Brothers Jack and Stephen Teeling set up the Teeling Whiskey company in Dublin in 2012 continuing a family connection with the City and the spirit going back to 1782. They opened the distillery, producing premium Irish whiskey, in 2015, the first new distillery in Dublin in over 125 years. They are the most awarded Irish whiskey producer for the last 5 years winning over 145 international gold medals at events. Their distillery welcomed 125,000 people in 2017 and was voted world’s best whiskey attraction in 2016 at the World Whiskies Awards.