Denise Murphy, Sector Manager for Alcohol Beverages at Bord Bia, is no stranger at finding her way around the agri-foods sector having worked for over 20 years with a broad range of food and drinks companies from meat to consumer foods to small business. What’s more, during her 11-year tenure with Bord Bia she obtained an undergraduate degree in Marketing Management and a Masters in Business Administration from the Smurfit School of Business.
Five years ago last June she took on the role of Sector Manager – Beverages, a category she describes as “all liquids except milk!”. Since then, the Irish whiskey, gin and craft beer explosion has resulted in a redefinition of her role which now sees her dedicated entirely to alcohol beverages.
Today, her job entails keeping an eye on international trends in the alcoholic drinks industry.
“There are sustained global trends that have impacted the Irish drinks industry over the last five to 10 years such as the growing middle-class consumer base in emerging markets along with the resultant increase in disposable income as well as the natural generation z and millennial tendencies towards curiosity and experimentation,” she observes.
“These trends are still evident and they’re joined by other notable trends.
“There’s growing global demand for low alcohol and non-alcohol adult beverages, driven by a desire for healthier living and ‘mindful’ drinking. This trend is expected not just to sustain, but to have a profound impact on the industry.”
As such, her overriding objective is to help increase exports of premium Irish alcohol beverages.
“This is achieved through a series of Bord Bia initiatives which include programmes focussed on brand development, knowledge transfer, talent and entrepreneurship,” she explains, “It also includes trade fairs & exhibitions, other meet-the-buyer events and activity which stimulates relationships between the industry and trade.
“Our craft beer category has enjoyed the benefits of a surge in global consumer demand for micro beer over the last six or seven years,” she points out, “However, in a small market like Ireland, there’s limited opportunity to grow. So the priority for craft beer is to increase the number of client companies exploiting export opportunities.
“The white spirits category, specifically gin, is also enjoying a global growth spurt, sustained over four years. Our category has grown in tandem with that demand, with nearly 30 gin distilleries in the RoI at this point. We will work with the gin category to firstly drive awareness among Irish consumers of the Irish brands and the variety of offerings while simultaneously exposing international trade to the exceptional premium Irish gins coming into the marketplace.“
Irish Cream Liqueurs, not to be overlooked, are enjoying a resurgence too following a slow period while the category was impacted during the economic slowdown, she believes.
“Alongside the Irish Whiskey and Gin categories, we will work with the Irish cream producers to build on recent gains and explore new opportunities.”
But it’s hoped that the any future economic slowdown as a result of Brexit should affect the drinks industry somewhat less severely than it might have done.
“The overall drinks industry, while struggling with Brexit in relative terms, is not as dependent on the UK as an export market as other sectors of the industry,” she points out, “It is facing supply chain challenges however in terms of sourcing inputs and complexities around bottling and canning.
“Ireland’s larger suppliers will, of course, be impacted – and significantly,” she believes, “However, these organisations have dedicated resources, preparing a range of potential solutions to a range of potential challenges.”
Our largest target market for Irish spirits is undoubtedly the US.
“To date” she says, “the category has escaped the wrath of the US administration and its protectionist measures but the risk is omnipresent. Bord Bia is addressing this concern by exploring alternative high-potential markets with increased focus, all the while striving to strengthen and enhance the existing trade relationships in the US and continuing to build new business in that market.”
In the meantime there is much to be done here at home.
The work ahead
“In a category as dynamic as the Irish drinks industry is just now, there will always be work to be done,” she says, “We have almost 30 new distilleries now, all at differing stages of development. For those more mature, continuous market development support is available. For those relatively new entrants, there’s a steep learning curve and we’re there to help with an extensive research library covering consumer and market research worldwide.
“Finally, the newcomers to any of the drinks categories are coming in with their eyes wide open, are aware of the challenges facing them and are quick to reach out for assistance in building their brand story, essence and architecture. Bord Bia’s Thinking House is invaluable at this stage of the company’s life-cycle.
“On a whiskey category level, sustaining your business through what must feel like parched earth in the journey from laying down liquid to bottling and selling is an incredible challenge. During this period many companies choose to launch gins, vodkas or poitíns. From a product marketing perspective, Bord Bia can assist in route to market activity when it’s required. One of the most high-profile marketing tools, however, is outside the auspices of Bord Bia’s remit but should be mentioned.
“The visitor experience at a distillery is becoming more and more essential to building brand awareness on a domestic and international level and indeed to generating the operating capital required to sustain the distillery through this challenging period. The medium-term vista for Irish distilleries has enormous tourism appeal and the added value that a successful tourism experience can create, not just for the distillery, but for the surrounding community, is very significant.”
Overall, she remains very positive about the future of the drinks industry internationally.
“If we take the industry on a category-by-category basis, the future of Irish Whiskey is really ours to lose,” she explains, “Exports have grown from 3.79 million cases to 8.79m cases in 10 years; IWSR predicts that exports will grow again to 11.69m cases in the next four years.
“Premium Irish Cream Liqueurs, as mentioned above, appear to be enjoying a reversal of fortunes. The economic downturn worldwide had impacted heavily on this category but it’s slowly clawing its way back, with modest growth in the region of 1.5% year-on-year since 2014.”
But the gin category finds itself, to some extent, ‘the unknown’.
“With low barriers to entry and a comparatively quick production turnaround time with no Geographic Indicator to protect it, there’s little to deter the less-committed enthusiast from diving in,” she warns, “However the global premium gin market has recorded growth of 76% since 2013 and projections indicate that this growth will continue over the next four years, with additional growth of 47%.”
As for beer, she’s firmly of the opinion that the independent craft beer category will need to grow in export terms in order to maintain. Working collectively will be key to the success of export measures, she believes.
“The Irish supply base will need to consolidate their efforts to establish strong markets in near-Europe in order to generate the required economies of scale to succeed further afield. Global projections for the craft beer category are extremely positive but the Irish craft beer supply is over-capacity for the domestic consumer base, investment needs to be placed in the export area.
“I take my cues from the various long-trusted research agencies with whom we work, along with the impressions and opinions of the stalwarts of the industry. As long as product development maintains an intimate relationship with consumer behaviour and demand, we should remain on a positive trajectory,” she concludes.
Glass definitely half-full.