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Speakeasy: Campari’s Fast Track

Posted on  | May 22, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Roy Danis, Managing Director, Campari America

With a flurry of recent acquisitions, Campari America has quickly become a player in all major spirits categories. At the WSWA Convention in Las Vegas, we sat down with Roy Danis, Managing Director, Campari America, to find out how the company’s strategy will play out.


THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: Your career includes stints at Seagram, Diageo, Pernod Ricard USA, Deutsch Family, Aveniu and José Cuervo. What is unique about Campari America?

ROY DANIS: For Campari’s first 130 years of operation, it was a one brand company. In the early 1990s, the company went on a buying spree which continues to this day. This means we are not a mature, highly developed company. We are just getting started, and that is really exciting. Also, no other company I have worked for has been so U.S.-centric. Our parent company, Gruppo Campari, has stated publically that the U.S. is a top priority market. They will not purchase any brand without ensuring it will add value to the U.S. business and strengthen our route to market.


TBN: “Buying spree” is no exaggeration. Can you talk about Campari’s most recent additions: Bulldog Gin, Forty Creek and Averna Liqueur?  

RD: Bulldog was the perfect brand to get us into the gin category. It’s extremely clean and mixable—it has been called the most mixable gin available because it isn’t too juniper-heavy. The black bottle really jumps out on the back bar, and we’re seeing a lot of interest both on- and off-premise for this brand. We compete now in Canadian whisky with the acquisition of Forty Creek. It’s a 300,000-plus case brand in Canada and currently sells 80,000 cases in the U.S., positioned just below Crown Royal in value. There is so much talk about bourbon that lots of people don’t realize the Canadian whiskey category is around the same level at 16 million cases in the U.S. With the Averna acquisition, Campari now becomes the one-stop shop for the greatest collection of Italian aperitifs in the industry.

TBN: In 2012 Campari purchased the Jamaican rum brand Appleton. How is this brand performing?

RD: We made the $400 million-plus investment in Appleton because we really believe in this category and the brand. This is the 4th largest selling super premium rum, and it’s big in Canada, but has tremendous room for growth in the U.S.

TBN: Now that Campari has taken back distribution of Aperol in the U.S. and purchased Averna, your portfolio is the country’s leader when it comes to aperitifs.

RD: Thanks to the mixology community, aperitifs are getting lots of attention right now. Aperol has been growing steadily, as a result of the Aperol Spritz, the Prosecco-based cocktail of which it is the star ingredient. When a server brings a tray of Aperol Spritzes to a table, everyone starts ordering them.  Campari, which is a massive brand worldwide, had been static at 50,000 cases in the U.S. for a long time, but now that mixologists have adopted it, we are seeing sales go through the roof. We are on target to sell 100,000 cases in the next several years. The popularity of the Negroni cocktail has fueled this nicely. Italian aperitifs and digestifs are growing at double digits in the U.S. Adding Averna to our list of iconic brands like Campari,  Aperol, Cinzano, Cynar and Frangelico gives us an incredibly strong calling card in the on-premise.

TBN: Flavored vodkas have started to slow down. How do SKYY infusions continue to outperform the category?

RD: We have not chased the candy, confection flavor trends—these flavors did well for a while but aren’t growing any longer. All the numbers show our flavor portfolio, SKYY Infusions, outpacing the category, because we believe the quality for the money is unbeatable. That said, only 20% of our vodka business is flavors, and we want to keep it that way. We feel that the flavor consumer is more fickle and that having a strong base brand is a better business model.

TBN: Flavors have become an exciting growth segment for whisky as well, with Wild Turkey’s American Honey a leader.

RD: I get a kick out of brands claiming they created the flavored whisky business. Wild Turkey began producing honey-flavored whisky in the 1970s! We acquired American Honey in 2009 along with the base brand, and the entire franchise is enjoying great success. American Honey provides a gateway for people who are not ready to drink whisky straight. We launched Wild Turkey Spiced (86 proof) last fall with the goal of attracting the spiced rum drinker who might want something a little more sophisticated.


TBN: You recently announced a  restructuring at Campari America. How will this benefit your go-to-market strategy?

RD: Our company has grown dramatically in recent years yet we were still stuck in the geographic division model. With a larger portfolio, we wanted to become more customer-centric, so I created a SWS-dedicated sales team headed by Dan Vanderbilt and an RNDC/Independent-dedicated sales team headed by Jock MacDonald. This set-up really adds value by allowing us to be in sync with our wholesalers’ priorities.

TBN: What can we expect to see from Campari America in the future?

RD: We are still very active in acquisition mode, and you will continue to hear news from us. If you look at categories like gin and rum which are flat, you see a lot of action in the super-premium segment—and now we have great entries to take advantage of that. We have grown extremely fast in a short time, but while Campari is the sixth largest premium spirits company globally, we don’t have that ranking in the U.S. With all the right brands in the right categories, and a very supportive parent company, we are catching up quickly.

Interview conducted and written by Kristen Bieler at The Seahorse Lounge at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, NV. Photographed by Michael Gaskell just prior to the start of the WSWA Convention.


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