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‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English) – From Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Sorry for the lack of Blogs in recent days, caused by circumstances beyond my control, but I am now fully back up to speed.

This Blog comes to you from The Moodie Report’s interim India Bureau, on the 8th floor of the stately Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi (view pictured above). I’m here, along with a very large travel retail contingent, to attend the wedding of Karan Tuli, son of King Power Group (HK) Duty Free & Travel Retail Managing Director Sunil, to Jasreen, which promises to be a wonderful experience over the next three days.

I flew out of Heathrow with Emirates, making a short early-morning transit through the great Terminal 3 Concourse A at Dubai International. Impressions and images of Heathrow and Dubai International to follow in my next Blog. I travelled on the Emirates A380, a magnificent aircraft but not a magnificent experience due to being sat next to possibly the worst-behaved children I have ever seen on an aircraft. Business Class turned into creche class as the two youngest of the three children, proceeded to tear around the cabin from just after take-off to just before landing and, believe it or not, even while the plane was taxiing on the runway at Dubai.

Not a word was said by the crew, despite the obvious annoyance being caused to both them and fellow passengers, as well as the clear safety concerns posed by very young children dashing around a plane. As with most poorly behaved children, it’s the parents who are to blame, and it was noticeable that just after the plane landed, both father and mother jumped to their feet to start collecting their hand baggage – the spur for another lap of the cabin by the two now hysterically hyperactive contenders for the next horror movie to be made about satanic possession of children.

But I digress, and said children, I promise, are the not the link to my Lewis Carroll quote. Far from it.

First there was the ‘failed’ Trinity. Now there’s the unsolved case of the ‘disappeared’ Trinity. Something very curious indeed is going on. To explain, I have spoken in this Blog before about an endlessly negative media voice when it comes to all things to do with the industry’s ‘Trinity’ concept. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, of course, and there’s no doubt that the grand notion of enhanced mutual understanding and partnership between industry stakeholders is a difficult one, often talked about but too rarely practiced.

However, big ideas require big thinkers, progressive minds, persistent personalities. Progress on difficult issues is always about overcoming the quicksand-like lure of the naysayers who can so easily suck others into their trap of giving up simply because giving up and commandering the cynic’s seat is easier than doing what rugby players call ‘the hard yards’.

So I do disagree with that pundit’s view, regularly expressed to the dwindling audience who wants to listen, that Trinity has “failed” – whatever that means.

Whether he’s right or wrong, though, I do find recent reports by his esteemed title a little cynical. The first was based on a press release from Budapest Airport headed ‘Maserati Ghibli joins Budapest Airport’s retail drive; 15 Trinity campaigns build on sales success’.

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The release related how Budapest Airport is set to drive retail at its flagship SkyCourt passenger hall with a scheduled 15 Trinity (their word not mine) promotions this year.

It also stated that last year’s Trinity promotions (in partnership with duty free/Travel Value concessionaire Gebr Heinemann) had generated sales increases exceeding +250% for each product being promoted and that Hungarian brands  such as Royal Tokji Wines, Zwack Unicum and Pick salami would play a key role in this year’s Trinity campaigns.

A good story, one that we and certain other industry media duly published. But here’s the curious thing. The  media title to which I referred earlier somehow contrived to eliminate all the airport’s references to Trinity.

And then it got curiouser. Not long afterwards, CTC-ARI, Cyprus Airports Food & Beverage and Hermes Airports announced that they were collaborating in a drive to showcase the island’s rich culture at Larnaka International Airport. The ‘Living Cyprus’ campaign is a true “Trinity partnership” said the companies. Another great Trinity story. Yet once again the word ‘Trinity’ was dropped entirely by a certain title.

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What is going on, asks Alice… I mean Martin? Is this a rare case of the press censoring the industry? Is it that such ‘good news’ stories don’t fit a certain pre-set agenda which suggests that the Trinity has failed? Or is it perhaps a twist on the old adage that you can’t teach an old Doug new tricks?

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I doubt there’s a happier travel retailer in the world this weekend than King Power International Group Senior Executive Vice President Susan Whelan (above), but her state of mind has nothing whatsoever to do with trading results.

No, folks, we’re talking football, English football to be precise. Susan is CEO of Leicester City Football Club, owned by a Thai consortium led by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (formerly Vichai Raksriaksorn), Chairman of King Power.

I had the pleasure of attending Wednesday’s night’s game against Sheffield Friday… sorry, Friday night’s game against Sheffield Wednesday (the after match celebrations are still leaving me feeling blurred), which Leicester (known locally as the ‘Foxes’) won 2-1 to put them on the brink of promotion to the Premiership. There they will play powerhouses of the game such as Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, Chelsea and Crystal Palace.

It was a mighty night but the job of promotion was not yet done.

Although enjoying a formidable lead at the top of the table over its nearest rivals (Burnley, Queen’s Park Rangers and Derby County), the Foxes needed to either secure another two points in their remaining six games to guarantee promotion or hope that QPR or Derby County dropped points (only the top two teams gain automatic promotion).

They didn’t have to wait long. On Saturday both QPR and Derby lost, meaning the Foxes are already booked into the 7-star hotel that is the Premiership next year. Now the only question is whether they will go up as Champions (which they should, as they currently enjoy a nine-point advantage over nearest rivals Burnley with only six games left).

I have no doubt about that. These urban Foxes are on the run, unstoppable, running free. Susan’s double role as a successful travel retail boss and a (rare) female football chief should be lauded throughout our industry. Besides her professionalism and capability, the fact that she’s such an understated and generous individual just adds further to what she has achieved.

For Khun Vichai, it’s rich reward for patience and perseverance in his investment and in his team, a welcome contrast to the knee-jerkingly, short-term approach of many owners.

C’mon you Foxes, now run liberated and joyously, gloriously wild for a few more weeks until the title of Champions is rightly yours.

Footnote: Friday’s game was also notable for a visit en masse from Irish football club Greystones United which, through well-known travel retail industry character Barry Geoghegan, has forged a wonderful sister club relationship with the Foxes – one that should see many young Greystones talents make it into the big time in years to come.

I’ll let Barry take up the story: “We are the second-biggest football club in Ireland with over 700 members. There were 66 club members over for the BIG game on Friday night, including players, coaches, staff and parents.

“The fact that we were all there when the Foxes got the points that they (as it turned out yesterday based on the Derby and QPR results) needed to confirm promotion makes it even more special. All at Greystones have such high regard for Susan, who is such a nice leader of the club.”

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[United as one (left to right): Greystones' Director of Football Andy O Hara, Child Protection Officer /Registrar Michele Healy  and Chairman John O'Neil with Barry Geoghegan]

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[Susan Whelan and partner Robbie Gill (left) join the Greystones team in a show of Anglo-Irish solidarity]

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[An Irish rose between two thorns: Susan Whelan with Martin Moodie and Barry Geoghegan]

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[Barry Geoghegan and rising footballing star, son Sean, get on to the hallowed King Power Stadium turf the day after the Wednesday result (which should make it a Thursday, right, so how come it was a Saturday? - Ed).  The Greystones youngsters played some of the Leicester City academy teams  and watched the latter's Under 16s and Under 18 s play Liverpool]

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On a quickfire trip to North America last week, I took in two major airport visits in two days, and had a fascinating glimpse into how the airport companies in Montréal and Chicago – and their partners – are re-imagining commercial activities.

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First, at Montréal-Trudeau, Aéroports de Montréal held the official opening of its new-look retail and F&B operations, including ARI-North America’s new duty free store (centrepiece of the development) among ten new shops and restaurants.

This is ARI’s biggest overseas expansion of The Loop brand to date, and a template of others that will follow at home in Ireland and abroad. My favourite elements included the Québec design and theming that guide travellers through the store, as well as aspects of the offer that neatly reflect the region. A highlight is ‘The Great One’, a sculptured stainless steel moose by Québec artist Mathieu Isabelle (above). It’s the kind of installation that, if designed differently, could look hokey, but here it adds a touch of artistry that works in this environment. And as we saw on our visit, it attracted huge attention from passengers and their camera lenses.

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Branching out: The Quebec pine that stands at the entrance to ARI’s luxury goods store at Montreal-Trudeau Airport

The pine wood that frames the luxury store across the corridor also delivers Sense of Place, as do parts of the store. The Canadian speciality wines area is excellent, and there’s a solid offer in Québec speciality food and gifts. Perhaps the ubiquitous maple syrup offer, which commands much shelf space, could be even more of a feature through a more prominent showcase.

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The Collection du Canada: A lovely addition to the new The Loop store featuring the best of Canadian wines

Elsewhere, there’s a version of ARI’s Irish Whiskey Collection, done so well at Dublin T2 in particular. Here, it’s less convincing as it houses spirits from around the world without say, a strong Canadian identity (though we understand there are plans to develop this area in time).

Overall, the main store offers great visibility and access, a good mix of the personalised and generic plus a far broader offer in the key categories of P&C and liquor than ever before.

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Celebrating the ARI opening at a dinner after the inauguration were (l-r) Caribbean-ARI Director Lindell Nurse, Caribbean-ARI Chairman Doug Hoyte, ARI-NA Director Mario Caron, ARI-NA Financial Controller Lise Roy, ARI CEO Jack MacGowan, ARI Montreal GM Jacques Dagenais, The Moodie Report Vice Chairman Dermot Davitt, ARI Director Retail Operations Gerry Crawford, Caribbean-ARI GM Pat Molloy and Caribbean-ARI Director Frank Odle

There’s plenty more to savour in the airside zone too. Vino Volo’s always high-class store and wine bar, a fine dining restaurant plus Les Délices de L’Érable, a lovely showcase for small manufacturers from Québec.

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Vino Volo: A first outlet at a full international terminal

Crucially in this airport redevelopment, a number of the new outlets (notably in F&B) are located landside. As airport CEO Jim Cherry explained to me (in an interview we’ll publish soon), the dramatic shift of virtually all commercial activity airside after 9/11 is slowly being rebalanced. Travellers are now more used to the rules around security and airports are better at facilitating a smooth transition landside to airside today, so there is room for a more expansive offer pre-security once more, he said.

At Trudeau, that’s resulted in a nice blend of destination retail, grab and go dining plus one of the best new bars I’ve seen at an airport anywhere recently, in Quebec craft brewer Archibald (below left).

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The bar and brasserie company has three outlets in the Canadian province, but this is its first at the airport. It has a good menu of classic burgers, steaks and fish allied to superb service, but its stand-out points are its Quebecois décor – from deer and moose heads to furs and wooden fixtures throughout – to its in-house beer range, ranging from pale ale and pilseners to porter and stout. Over dinner with the ARI team in this little corner of Québec, it was hard to believe that just yards away was the functional, sterile check-in zone.

Given the quality and breadth of the beer and food offer, perhaps this is one concept that could be better placed airside. How many travellers will be relaxed enough to sample the extensive craft beer list when they still have to face security?

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All change in Chicago: Dufry’s new duty free store in T5

A day later, Chicago T5 offered a different vision of retail and F&B for international travellers. The starting point for Westfield and partners such as Dufry was very different than Montréal: previously 95% of all commercial was pre-security, making the challenge of the transition a huge one over the past two years. What’s admirable is that from almost no commercial airside, there’s now a walk-through duty free store, a solid blend of F&B with local brands and flavor, plus a lively destination offer that goes well past souvenirs to art and craft, at I Love Chicago.

Partly because the terminal beyond the commercial heart has not been radically changed, T5 still retains elements of the old unappealing terminal don by the gates – a real contrast to the mall-style hub at its centre. Also, some of the local brands that have been introduced feature here through kiosk-style counters rather than full restaurant spaces. For Chicagoans who know and love these F&B brands, that won’t matter, but to the majority of travellers these units might not carry the same appeal.

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Some of the local brand names that lead the T5 F&B offer

Now that it lies airside, the duty free store is obviously a major departure, and all passengers encounter it on their way through. P&C is well represented and broadly well merchandised. But even at 10,000sq ft, there is a cramped feel to parts of the store, with a lot of fixtures that will make access difficult at very busy times.

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Coming soon: Michael Kors and Emporio Armani will open soon on the ‘luxury row’ at Chicago T5

Compared to P&C or even liquor, the space devoted to, for example, confectionery and accessories, is very limited. I also wonder how many passengers will enjoy the experience of browsing through the watches or jewellery while they face back at security five yards away, as they put their belts or jackets back on?

Overall though, this is a terminal that has come a long way in a short time. With some better wayfinding and marketing of the offer, this has all the elements to be an attractive and successful concessions arena.

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March has been a mighty busy month. I am slowly recovering from my ten-flights-in-ten-days US odyssey, which began with a cracking time in California (courtesy of Wonderful Pistachios); continued with a transfer to Orlando to attend this year’s IAADFS Duty Free Show of the Americas; and concluded with a “Bourbon Immersion” in Kentucky, hosted in serious style by Brown-Forman. It was one heck of a finale.

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The lucky ‘Bourbon Immersion’ 2014 participants

The Brown-Forman travel retail team laid on the most tremendous press trip, which included a visit to Churchill Downs Racetrack (home of the Kentucky Derby), a tour of the Brown-Forman Cooperage and a bourbon tasting with Master Distiller Chris Morris. During the course of the two days I fell head over heels in love with Louisville; developed a serious grits habit (delicious!); and discovered the delights of the Mint Julep cocktail, much to the detriment of my waistline and my liver. Plus I have GOT to stop saying ‘Y’all’…

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Above: the famous Churchill Downs Racetrack, home of the Kentucky Derby; below: a selection of Derby Day hats on display in the Kentucky Derby Museum

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After transferring to Kentucky via Atlanta – and a brief check-in at the amazing 21C Museum Hotel – the Bourbon Immersion began in earnest with a private tour of Churchill Downs Racetrack and the Kentucky Derby Museum.

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Race day’s traditional Mint Julep cocktail, made with Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve – the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby

Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby, and we conscientiously sampled it on arrival, in the form of the race day’s traditional Mint Julep. I’ve always been a Martini Mann (and something of a gin connoisseur) but in one fell swoop that cocktail converted me to the beauty of bourbon and reader, I haven’t looked back since.

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Horsing around: The Moodie Report’s Rebecca Mann saddles up for a bourbon-fuelled virtual circuit of the Kentucky Derby race track
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Below: the stunning view of the winning post from Brown-Forman’s suite
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The Museum welcomes over 200,000 guests each year, and gives each and every one of them a unique insight into the Kentucky Derby and everything it encompasses. Highlights include “It’s My Derby” (a collection of favourite Derby memories, famous and flamboyant hats, and outfits worn to the festivities); “The Greatest Race” (a 360-degree feature film highlighting Derby day from dawn to dusk) and “Riders Up” (an interactive exhibit where visitors can “race” a horse, using their thumbs to manoeuvre their mount, while maintaining the ‘bottoms up’ position). You know where I’m going with this, right? Buoyed by Mint Juleps, three of us were persuaded to saddle up and race each other. Much to my chagrin, I came in second, beaten soundly by Travel Markets Insider’s Michael Pasternak. I blame the bourbon…

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Master Distiller Chris Morris outside the Brown-Forman Cooperage

On leaving the Museum, we were treated to a fascinating tour of the Racetrack, including Millionaires’ Row and the Brown-Forman Suite, with its phenomenal view of the track and the winning post. Day one ended with pre-dinner cocktails (bourbon-based, natch) and a divine dinner at St Charles Exchange Restaurant.

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Raising barrels: Brown-Forman is the only spirits company that makes its own
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Day two began with a tour of Brown-Forman’s Cooperage, following a talk by Master Distiller Chris Morris, who is a remarkable and humbling authority on absolutely any subject you can think of – including bourbon. I have never met anyone more knowledgeable in my life, and it was a privilege to spend time with him and be educated a little, about so many different things.

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Charring barrels is an important part of the cooperage process

I discovered, for example, that Brown-Forman is the only spirits company in the world to make its own barrels (created from American White Oak). I learned that one ‘raises’, not builds, a barrel, which is made from 33 staves. Chris explained about seasoning, steaming, toasting, charring and bung holes. Above all, I learned that the barrel is an integral ingredient of a whisk(e)y – much more than a mere container – responsible for all of its colour, and a good part of its flavour. It was fascinating.

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The power of five: the quintet of key flavour sources intrinsic to making bourbon

We then enjoyed an exclusive tour of the cooperage, from the lumber yard to the barrel assembly and beyond. The sights and smells of the wood and the fires – and the skills of the coopers, who can raise up to 250 barrels a day – were simply spectacular.

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The bourbon bubbles away at the Woodford Reserve Distillery

The cooperage was a hard act to follow, but somehow Brown-Forman managed it, laying on a comprehensive tour of the group’s historic main campus and corporate headquarters, and a lavish lunch in Brown-Forman’s Bourbon Street Café, in the company of top B-F executives.

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The eye-catching whiskey stills

Then it was back onto the bus (I say bus: sleek, black, executive transporter, complete with onboard refreshments, would be far more accurate), for our visit to the Woodford Reserve Distillery.

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Extracting whiskey ahead of some sampling

We were then treated to a tour that de-mystified the mechanical, chemical, technical and sensory aspects of bourbon production, and examined the five sources of flavour intrinsic to the bourbon-making process.

Last – but definitely not least – we sat down for an unforgettable bourbon tasting. Choosing a favourite proved nigh on impossible (though I was typically thorough in my efforts, and guided expertly by Chris). Ultimately, the exquisite Woodford Reserve Masters Collection Maple Wood Finish just edged it: ambrosial in every respect. I silently toasted my late father – a true whisk(e)y lover, who would have adored every second of this trip – with my final dram.

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The Master at work: Chris Morris leads the bourbon tasting

Our last supper in Louisville was another convivial affair, taken in the 21C Hotel restaurant, Proof on Main (Weisenberger grits this time! Served with goat’s cheese, scallions, lemon and olive oil). Normally I hate goat’s cheese but these are so sublime I’d demolish them for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week straight. Y’all eat there if you can (oops). Fly there specially if you must.

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Rebecca Mann endures another tough day at the office…

A huge and heartfelt thank you to the Brown-Forman team (especially Liz Bingham, Rick Bubenhofer, Jim Perry and Chris Morris) for their wit, warmth and hospitality during one of the most informative and enjoyable press trips I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. I will be wallowing happily in the memories of Brown-Forman’s Bourbon Immersion for a very long time to come.

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One of the reasons, I am sure, that Incheon International Airport keeps being rated the world’s best airport in ACI’s annual Airport Service Quality (ASQ) awards, is its commitment to consumer engagement.

I have commented many times on the excellence of Incheon’s Korea Cultural Traditional Experience Center (pictured below), which brilliantly combines retailing with customer participation and education about the country’s splendid history and heritage.

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Incheon interactive

But Incheon is far more than that. It’s also a whole lot more than the only airport with a Louis Vuitton store (faboulous though it is) and about an intense focus on shopping.

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Incheon panorama

There’s also a whole museum experience, a ‘Korean Wave’ store, a ‘street’ of Korean restaurants, daily cultural shows in selected areas and even on the open concourse, and much, much more.

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I travelled back to London Heathrow via Incheon last month and noticed a simple but critical difference between the two airports. One struck a chord, as it were, one didn’t. Take a look at the two pictures below. I snapped the top one at Incheon Airport, the second one on my return to Heathrow T3.

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The Incheon shot shows a female pianist, backed by a string quartet, entertaining passengers with a beautiful mid-afternoon performance. Note all the passengers who have stopped, entranced, engaged, entertained, excited about seeing this in an airport.

Now look at the rather joyless, roped-off piano above at Heathrow’s post-immigration airside arrivals zone. And here’s the thing. It plays itself! Yes, it’s got one of those pre-programmed mechanisms that makes the keys tinkle away to a prescribed musical selection. Now I like the welcome sign (featuring a Covent Garden florist) but don’t you think the piano is a bit… well, sad?

And there’s more. Here’s a picture of the landside arrivals hall. Another piano! Talk about unaccompanied music…

All on its own, standing as gloomily as a waiting relative who’s been told that their loved one is being strip-searched by Customs. Why is it here? When is it played? Is it played?

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However, it’s not all bad at Heathrow. I do like this themed gate lounge below, commemorating the London Olympics,which embraces the original ‘London park’ theme and features of the purpose-built Games Terminal of the 2012 event. One of those features was a ‘memory tree’, that allowed athletes to leave their thoughts and souvenirs.

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When I  used that lounge, I noticed the change of mood among travellers. If nothing else, it was a talking point, as well as signifying that the travel experience had already begun. Not the strongest evocation of Sense of Place that I have seen in an airport but a good first step. More please.

Ah, Sense of Place. I seem to have talked about that concept ad infintum down the years but oh so few airports really deliver.  So back to Incheon, which does. Take a look at the images below and you’ll see why I, like so many others, enjoy this airport.

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Incheon SOP foods

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[Above: A Korean 'riceteria']

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[Above and below: The Korean Wave store at Incheon International Airport]

Incheon Korean wave store

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Leicester external

Regular readers of this Blog will know that I have a particular affinity with Leicester City Football Club, more popularly known as ‘The Foxes’ in the UK.

Leicester City is owned by Asian Football Investments, a Thai consortium led by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha (formerly Vichai Raksriaksorn), Chairman of one of Asia’s leading travel retailers, King Power International Group. The latter’s Senior Executive Vice President Susan Whelan is Chief Executive of the club.

Last year, Leicester City Football Club Foundation named The Moodie Report Foundation (dedicated to funding cancer research) as one of its official charities, while we in turn donated US$50 to charity for every goal the Foxes scored.

Leicester ground

We also offered a US$5,000 bonus if the team won promotion to the Premier League, where they would meet giants of the game such as Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United and Crystal Palace.

Alas, after a strong early showing, the Foxes faded, squeaking into the play-offs where they lost out in the final seconds of the first round.

This year has been a very, very different story. Hardened by last year’s experience, the Foxes have been on the run since early in the season, at one stage threatening to run away with the Championship. In what should be a business case study for football clubs throughout the land who sack managers with the same alarming alacrity with which a despot kills opponents, Khun Vichai did not dismiss Nigel Pearson for what amounted in business terms to a disappointing final quarter after nine months’ excellent trading. Instead he backed his man and backed his team, knowing they would be better for the experience.

Of late, rivals Burnley have closed the gap but, critically, with only the top two teams gaining automatic qualification, the Foxes enjoy a 13-point advantage over third-placed Queen’s Park Rangers. The latter have only eight games left and even in the unlikely event that they win them all, Leicester City would still only need 11 points from their nine games to win promotion on goal difference.

A walk in the park, as it were? Try telling that to Susan Whelan whose nerves are jangling like a thousand newly minted coins in a King Power shopping bag. Never more so than on Tuesday night, when two of the Moodie team, myself, my son Declan and Publisher’s Assistant Helen Pawson, visited the King Power Stadium for what looked like a certain easy win against lowly Yeovil.

But teams fighting for their lives can be doughty opponents. Just as Leicester are set for promotion, Yeovil are battling imminent relegation and right from kick-off they gave as good (and much of the time better) as they got.

Cue a first-half goal for the visitors and a worried-looking Susan Whelan at half-time. In stress terms, being CEO or Manager of a football club must be right up there with tight-rope walking and bomb defusal. In monetary terms alone, promotion to the UK Premiership represents a multi-million Pound bonanza. In kudos, image and global exposure terms it is simply priceless. And for Khun Vichai, it would the culmination of a dream, a fantastic reward for his belief in and commitment to the club that the King Power-led consortium acquired in 2010.

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So, to say the least, the stakes are frighteningly high. As the game wore on, and on, it was clear that this was an off-tune night. The Foxes, perhaps tired from Saturday’s match, were not so much on the run, as treading through treacle.

However, as everyone knows (and if you don’t, I’m telling you), when in trouble, call for the Kiwis. My confident prediction at half-time that New Zealand international Chris Wood would come off the substitutes’ bench and save the day, proved true, albeit in the most unlikely circumstances.

Deep into injury time, the Foxes threw everyone into the Yeovil penalty box for a corner kick, including goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Up there too was substitute Wood, a tall, powerful man who looks as though he would not be out of place in his country’s all-conquering, All Blacks rugby team.

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[Martin Moodie and Susan Whelan in the Foxes' lair]

The ball came in. Chaos. Schmeichel, son of former Manchester United and Denmark  goalie great Peter, rose imperiously to head the ball goalwards. It hit the crossbar, bounced straight down… over the line, or not? Time seemed to stop. The referee appeared to play on as the roar of the Leicester crowd rose to the level of a thousand jumbos flying above the stadium on an East Midlands night.

As players from both sides scrambled for the ball, it was that theoretically impossible prospect, a flying Kiwi, Chris Wood, who rose fastest and highest, nodding the ball in for perhaps the most valuable goal he will ever score.

In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, pandemonium is the name given to the capital of Hell. At the King Power Stadium, the word represented pure heaven. Looking at the face of Susan Whelan and listening to the ear-shattering ecstasy of the crowd, one realised what legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly meant when he said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.” 

And so, with a ghosting run from a man appropriately called Kasper, the sound of Wood on leather, and just the right amount of Kiwi polish, Leicester stole the unlikeliest of points to maintain their irresistible upwards momentum. On Saturday, they play near rivals Burnley, in a crucial away game that may decide who wins promotion as Champions.

Susan’s nerves may resemble a bunch of documents put through the office shredder but – and you read it here first – the club that Khun Vichai bought are going up as Champions. The giants – Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester and… Crystal Palace await. This time the Foxes really are on the run.

One Response to “Kasper ghosts, Kiwi polishes and a late, late show keep the Foxes on the run”

  1. Barry Geoghegan says:

    Hi Martin and Susan,
    We all have our fingers and toes crossed for the Foxes to gain a much deserved promotion to the premiership .

    warm regards and best wishes,

    Barry Geoghegan

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I’m back at the oh so familiar Hyatt Incheon bureau of The Moodie Report, looking out on one of the great airports of the world.

It’s a more fleeting visit than most that I have made at least annually to the wonderful country that is South Korea over the past 25 years. In fact I’m here just for a day before returning to London via Hong Kong in the morning.

The purpose of my visit is to catch with up the commercial team at Incheon International Airport Corporation (IIAC). They are working harder than ever this year due to a series of impending commercial tenders for duty free, food & beverage and other related contracts.

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[Martin Moodie with Ms Young-Shin Kim, Senior Manager Concession Team 1 and Sang J Ahn, Director Concession Team 1]

It’s too early for us to report details yet, but I can tell you that everyone at IIAC is determined that all the tenders will be fair and transparent, and that international as well as local companies will be encouraged to bid.

Along with Dubai International Airport, Incheon is a giant of airport duty free retailing, generating revenues of about US$1.8 billion last year. The duty free tender will take place against the backdrop of new legislation introduced last year designed to curb the influences of the giant chaebols (conglomerates) that dominate so many sectors of Korean business, including duty free. Incumbents Lotte Duty Free and The Shilla Duty Free are, of course, subsidiaries of two of the leading chaebols.

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[Airstar Avenue is the overarching brand for all Incheon International Airport's retail activities]

Both will be ultra-keen to retain their Incheon strangleholds. But in a fast-changing commercial landscape, it is likely that they will face competition not only from international rivals but potentially from a string of local debutantes.

There’s also great excitement about the food & beverage tenders, which will be encouraging a much wider mix of outlets and cuisines. Watch this space, we’ll be working closely with IIAC all year to bring you news as it breaks of some of the most important commercial tenders in the airport business.

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[Taking dinner with Bum-Ho Kim, an old friend and one of IIAC's most respected senior executives and Young-Shin Kim]

 

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How does someone feel as they unveil a product that represents half a century (and therefore most) of their working life? What emotions does it conjure up as they share the culmination of a great personal journey with strangers and colleagues?

Those were the questions I asked the other night of Glen Grant Master Distiller Dennis Malcolm (above) as he showcased the Campari-owned brand’s magnificent new 50yo single malt whisky at its launch in Hong Kong.

During the course of our working year, The Moodie Report receives, I suppose, around 2,000 press releases. Heavy on hyperbole (and sometimes abuse of the English language), they are often overflowing with executives’ ‘quotes’,  words and phrases that people simply would never say.

Dennis Malcolm is not like that. Hardly the servant of any PR machine, he tells it as he sees it, particularly when it comes to the love of his life, single malt whisky.

As mentioned in my last Blog, Glen Grant was showing its (and Dennis’s) new (albeit mature) baby at two big trade launches in Hong Kong and Macau this week. The 50yo is a statement not just of age but of intent by the Campari group, as it finally gives a very fine single malt the limelight it has long deserved after being lost within the broad portfolios of multi-nationals Seagram and Pernod Ricard in recent years.

Perhaps suffering from its huge success in the Italian domestic market over many years with a young, unaged malt, Glen Grant has seldom got the recognition it should have for being a fine Speyside whisky in its own right, and one with the ability to take on great age.

All that is changing and the 50yo, unveiled against the magnificent backdrop of the Hong Kong harbour skyline on Monday, affirms that momentum in spectacular style.

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The quite gorgeous crystal decanter – shaped like the swan-like Glen Grant stills – is one thing, the US$13,000 price point another, but it’s the juice that really matters here. Certainly to Dennis, who sees this very much as the fulfilment of a life’s work spent entirely in the Scotch whisky industry, starting as a 15 year old and following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather at Glen Grant.

Let me tell you the juice is stunning. Unlike many very old malts, it has not been overtaken by the wood, nor has the fruit declined to the point of bitterness and huge but sometimes unpleasant flavours. This is a huge toffee and vanilla-laced number, still brilliantly balanced, with a thrilling finish as long as the River Spey.

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Scotch whisky companies often roll out ‘brand ambassadors’, some of whom are highly articulate and humorous but possibly picked for those qualities rather than their real knowledge of all aspects of Scotch whisky production. Dennis, conversely, is a walking, talking, nosing, supping and savouring ambassador for all that his malts – and those of others – stand for. Scripting him, I imagine, would be a nightmare, but he’s all the better for it.

So, back to the questions, I posed at the beginning of this Blog – and to Dennis just after he unveiled the 50yo with a magician’s flair from behind a dark curtain.

And do you know how this man answered, a man who had been in unstoppably exuberant free flow for the previous 30 minutes as he talked about the Glen Grant range, his philosophy towards single malt whisky production and plenty else besides? The answer is he didn’t. He couldn’t.

After I finished my question, he smiled thoughtfully, his eyes went moist and then he looked away for 30 or 40 seconds.  There was absolute silence in a packed and hitherto noisy room. The thought of him first laying down this barrel of whisky 50 years ago and then presenting it in such exquisite form all those years on, briefly overwhelmed him. The memories and emotions swirled like a Scottish mist in his head. His silence was not met with embarrassment but, as it should have been, with a standing ovation.

It was the antithesis of so many over-scripted launches, a poignantly humane reminder that great single malt whisky is a combination of man’s craft, nature’s powers and the irresistible power of age. And you knew, you just knew, that in this bottle was housed a malt whisky that was the best, the very best that a callow youth who had long since become a man could ever produce.

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[I share a dram with the great man himself]glengrant_50_years_blog

[Left to right: Dennis Malcolm,  Travel Retail Business co-Owner Nigel Hardy, Martin Moodie and Gruppo Campari Global Travel Retail Director Andy Holmes (also pictured below]

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[I have the great honour of proposing a toast to John Hoover (below), a fantastic servant of DFS, who retires from the company next month]

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I’m flying at 35,000 feet, somewhere between Omsk and my old haunt of Novosibirsk. I’m bound for Hong Kong and the launch of an extraordinary single malt whisky that, like me, has been around for a long, long time, but which unlike me is reputed to still be in impeccable condition.

I won’t reveal too many details yet but the malt in question is the great Speyside Glen Grant, now owned by fast-rising Italian drinks group Campari. As I write it’s already morning in Hong Kong, where tonight a stunning, invitation-only event is promised at The Peninsula. More to follow on that subject.

I guess I must travel as much as most in this industry. Certainly Novosibirsk (where I’ve never ventured other than to fly above it) feels like a second home. As do Heathrow, Hong Kong and Incheon airports in particular. I’m prepared to wager that my photo library is among the industry’s best. Certainly I would stake anything I own on the fact that I have been asked to put my camera away more than anyone in travel retail. If Humphrey Bogart were playing in my planned blockbuster movie ‘Free of Duty’, he would be the travel retail shopkeeper who sees me (please, no suggestions on who should play me) and says, “Of all the duty free shops in all the towns in all the world, he walks into mine…”

As I travel, I see (and photograph) the good, the bad and the ugly of the travel retail world. So this year, in good Facebook style, I’m going to include in my Blog some of my ‘Moodie likes’ and dislikes, hopefully more of the former though I promise not to hold back on the latter. Watch this space, first I’ve got a very special tasting to attend.

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My sanity has been questioned many times over the years – not least, on occasion, by myself – so the nut job jokes came thick and fast when I accepted an invitation from Wonderful Pistachios to visit (via private jet!) parent company Paramount Farms’ plantation and processing facility in Lost Hills, California, prior to this year’s IAADFS show in Orlando. It was, however, an insanely good decision to go, in spite of the fact that this year my US odyssey would ultimately incorporate 10 flights in 10 days (possibly a Moodie Report record), thanks to an equally fabulous post-show trip to Louisville with Brown-Forman (more of which soon, in a separate Blog. Once the bourbon has worn off.)

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From artichokes to pistachios, via Beverly Hills restaurant Maude

Until then, back to the nuts. Via some artichokes (bear with). Any trip that begins with a private jet is sure to be Wonderful (see what I did there?), and I must confess that I was madly excited by the prospect of a little exclusive air travel, especially after the rigours of an 11-hour BA flight to LAX, which included a fractious infant in the row in front; a strapping six foot six Russian in the seat behind (my back still bears the imprint of his knees); and an erratic IFE system with only intermittent sound. There wasn’t enough red wine on board to blot out that lot – although I gave it a really good go.

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Roasted artichoke ice cream – only in LA…

Prior to the trip, I’d received a one-line email from Paramount Farms Director of Sales Australia, SE Asia & Global Travel Retail James Kfouri, which asked: “Do you like artichokes?” I thought I’d got myself a scoop about a new travel retail exclusive collection, but it transpired that James had managed to book the chef’s table at the recently-opened Maude in Beverly Hills (mauderestaurant.com), owned by Australian chef Curtis Stone. The restaurant, which boasts just 25 seats, offers a no-choice, nine-course monthly set menu, inspired by one special seasonal ingredient. In March, it was all about artichokes (although while we were there questions were asked about pistachios. Watch this space).

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My pilot for the day. He even carried my bag

Entre nous, I was a bit ambivalent about artichokes before that dinner, but two courses in, I was converted. Highlights included the croquettes and the roasted artichoke ice cream. In short, the food is fabulous and the setting divine. Eat there if you can.

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The Moodie Report’s Rebecca Mann and Wonderful Pistachios’ James Kfouri fly to Lost Hills in serious style

That dinner set us up nicely for the following day’s trip, which began bright and early with a flight in a nine-seater private plane to Lost Hills, one of Paramount Farms’ prime nut-growing locations in California’s San Joaquin Valley. In total we did three flights on a PJ that day and dear reader, it is the ONLY way to travel. You don’t have to queue for hours at security and disrobe in front of strangers. You don’t have to cram all your LAGS into one tiny, transparent bag. The powers that be are not bothered about boarding cards, passports, turning off mobile phones and taking your laptop out of its case. They give you coffee and fruit, smile graciously and escort you personally onto the plane, where you sit wherever you damn well like. In short it has ruined me forever in terms of air travel – and believe me, the five internal US flights I did subsequently with Delta proved particularly painful in comparison.

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Size matters: an aerial view of Paramount’s vast Lost Hills facility

But nothing was more impressive than the orchards themselves. It is difficult to convey in either words or photos the sheer scale and beauty of the Lost Hills operation. You simply have to see it for yourself. The nut plantations – both almond and pistachio – are vast, stretching as far as the eye can see once you’re on the ground. The pistachio trees in particular are beyond striking. Dormant at this time of year, they are a strange silver grey, eerily beautiful and lined up precisely like rows of silent sentinels. It’s a sight that will remain with me always.

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Rows of almond trees, ready to be pollinated by bees

Tour Coordinator Levi Barton treated us to a comprehensive private tour of both the orchards and the processing facility. It’s an impressive operation on every level. Paramount’s pistachios go from tree to silo in less than 24 hours, and its on-site facilities allow the company to sort, grade, process, roast, flavour and package billions of nuts each year. The numbers involved are staggering – and not just in terms of nuts.

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The striking dormant pistachio orchards at Lost Hills

Almond trees, for example, are pollinated by bees (unlike pistachio trees, which are pollinated by the wind). The company needs 90,000 hives (at a cost of US$170 each) to do this. With 30,000 bees per hive, and 1.95 hives per acre, that adds up to a requirement of 2.7 trillion bees each year. Regarding irrigation, one and a quarter gallons of water are required per almond nut per year – no mean feat in an area that is suffering from a severe and prolonged drought.

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James Kfouri, the face of Wonderful Pistachios in travel retail

Such mind-boggling figures reinforce the scale of Paramount’s reach – it is the world’s largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios. Together with its Grower Partners, the company farms 125,000 acres that deliver 450 million lbs of nuts each year. Since launching into travel retail in 2012, the Wonderful Pistachios brand has grown exponentially, gaining listings with retailers all over the globe. Awareness was further boosted by the brand’s recent Super Bowl campaign, starring Stephan Colbert, which kicked off a new, full-year agreement with Colbert under the theme, “Get Crackin’, America”.

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Paramount is the world’s largest grower and processor of almonds and pistachios

The company estimates it reached 115 million viewers through that Super Bowl campaign, plus another four million online, complemented by a further 2.16 billion impressions created via its PR activity. By the end of this crop year Paramount is confident of getting close to its 70% awareness goal, putting pistachios in the same realm as salty snacks such as chips and pretzels. And increasing Wonderful Pistachios’ global travel retail distribution footprint is a key priority.

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Glamour personified: Mann and Kfouri prepare to visit the Lost Hills processing facility

With the redoubtable Kfouri charged with driving sales within the channel, further expansion throughout 2014 and beyond seems assured. The Lost Hills visit was an ideal opportunity to experience first-hand the scale of the company’s achievements to date – and its ambitions for the future. Huge thanks to the Paramount team for an LA adventure that was Wonderful in every respect.

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