Sizing up Asia with Sazerac; waiting for Wipha on wifi

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Hong Kong is experiencing an unrelenting political storm with all the street protests and related violence of recent weeks that have this usually calm and peaceful place in turmoil. Now a storm of a different kind is about to strikeas I write from my Hong Kong bureau, the Hong Kong Observatory has just raised its first T8 warning of the year. Tropical storm Wipha is on its way. Time to hunker down.

The mid-summer view from The Moodie Davitt Report Interim Hong Kong Bureau as super storm Wipha closes in

My business partner Dermot Davitt may have chosen a very unfortunate day, therefore, to fly into Hong Kong on holiday with his wife Michelle and two daughters Aoife and Keira. Sorry Dermot, I know you’re up there in the sky, maybe reading about Wipha on wifi but you might be about to take the family to an unexpected diversionary destination. Don’t worry though, Guangzhou is very nice at this time of year.

Yesterday I lunched at Hong Kong International Airport’s excellent Lime Garden (Sky), which offers an eclectic mix of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. Nice setting, lovely food and good company. The last-named came in the form of one of my oldest friends in the travel retail industry, Clive Carpenter (ex-Hennessy, Camus and Prunier), now General Manager at Domaine Breuil de Segonzac, the Cognac property owned by powerful family-held US drinks company Sazerac; Chris Ritchie, Chief Global Business Officer of Sazerac; and Rebecca Jago (daughter of Baileys Irish Cream inventor Tom), Managing Director of The Last Drop Distillers, also owned by Sazerac.

With the Sazerac team in Hong Kong: (Left to right) Chris Ritchie, Rebecca Jago and Clive Carpenter

The Sazerac story of recent years has been one of the most remarkable in drinks industry history. In a sector dominated by multi-national conglomerates, the firm is wholly held by US billionaire William Goldring, who began buying shares in 1984 and eventually acquired the whole business. Today, remarkably, it is one of America’s two largest spirits companies.

Unlike most of its rivals, however, it has a modest presence in Asia. That represents not weakness but huge opportunity, according to Chris Ritchie. Sazerac has an intriguing portfolio, ranging from a plethora of value brands to some real premium gems. In the last four years alone it has acquired Irish whiskey brands Michael Collins and Paddy; Southern Comfort; The Last Drop Distillers; Frïs vodka; Domaine Breuil de Segonzac Cognac; Seagram VO Canadian whisky and Goldschläger cinnamon schnapps. Add in a host of bourbons, tequilas, rums, white spirits and liqueurs and you have a company with a portfolio that can be adapted – and premiumised – to just about any retailer’s needs.

The Last Drop Distillers already enjoys a strong presence with Duty Zero by cdf at Hong Kong International Airport. Expect to see more of the line-up – and of Sazerac – in Asian travel retail in the years to come.