It’s not every day you find yourself in the charts with Kylie, but James Halliday, Diageo GB’s commercial director for take-home, appeared among this year’s Drinks Retailing Top 100 Most Influential. Here, he talks to Lucy Britner about consumer trends, brand strategy and working with retailers
“Anything to do with the off-trade that remotely touches commercial – that will come to me,” says James Halliday, Diageo GB commercial director for take-home. Within the off-trade commercial function, Halliday has a team of 60 people working across sales, category development, shopper marketing, insights and trade investment management.
“It’s a big team – a lot of fun,” he says. “Ultimately we’re responsible for driving continued category growth for us and all of our retail partners.”
Diageo is the largest spirits supplier in the off-trade. Total off-trade spirits are worth £5.5 billion and Diageo has around 28% of this. (NIQ total off-trade including discounters, year to August 12). In the most recent results announcement, for the year to June 30, Diageo flagged Guinness, tequila, vodka and RTDs as growth drivers in the UK – so it’s no surprise Halliday is enthusiastic about these brands and categories. He highlights the introduction of Guinness Nitrosurge, a device that connects to a Guinness can to give a smooth serve at home, which he says has “beaten all expectations”.
In vodka, he mentions the success of Smirnoff and, in particular, the flavours, including Raspberry Crush, Mango & Passionfruit and the recently launched Cherry Drop variant. Their popularity, he says, builds on the trend of consumers wanting to experiment more with spirits. “We’re really seeing that trend in home bartending – people are getting more confident with making mixed drinks at home.
“One of the things we consistently talk to the trade about is how we are incredibly confident about the future of the spirits category,” he adds.
Part of Halliday’s job is to help retailers capitalise on these trends, using data and insights from both external and internal intel. He also says Diageo recently put more resources into the wholesale and convenience channels to better understand business owners and their needs.
“What the big grocers will be looking for from us is category insights, shopper insight, consumer insight to partner with them on, so they can grow their categories and really excite the shopper. When you go down the wholesale and convenience channel, there’s less data available, so they are more reliant on the insights we can bring to do the same thing.
“We have representatives who speak to independent convenience shop owners. And clearly their needs are very, very different to Tesco. They are really interested in what the latest trends are, or what the latest innovation is, and how can they merchandise their stores better to try to maximise their sales, because they’re really looking for those insights and that help from suppliers.”
What does using data and insights look like in practice? Halliday gives the example of a recent tie-up between Diageo and Waitrose to spotlight low and no-alcohol drinks via dedicated fixtures across 253 stores.
“If you look at the broader insights that we get from consumers and shoppers on the low and no category, they find it difficult to find in store – they’re not sure what products are available,” explains Halliday.
“They’re trying to navigate their way through ‘is it completely non-alcoholic, or is it just low abv?’ So, they’ve been telling us for quite a while that they want to enjoy this really exciting category but they’re just not quite sure how to shop for it, or where to find it. We did some joint research, and we tested a few different concepts and a few different stores to look at what was the best way to merchandise the fixture, what brands and products should be there and how they should be categorised.”
Halliday says the colour blue has become synonymous with the low/no segment, and that became an important factor in drawing attention to the fixture in-store, with floor and shelf signage. The idea is that the whole category and shopping mission becomes easier to navigate.
Before Diageo, Halliday held FMCG roles in confectionery and in health and beauty – and both have come in handy. In terms of confectionery, he talks about seasonality and treating, and for health and beauty, he mentions premiumisation – all key to selling spirits.
For premium independent spirits shops, Halliday says the business changed tack a few years ago to educate these retailers via brand ambassadors, in the same way they would in the on-trade. He says the shopping mission is different for these kinds of outlets – relaying brand stories, talking about heritage or suggesting cocktail serves is important. He adds that the shoppers are often the same drinkers who enjoy a premium serve in the on-trade.
Halliday says: “We have to understand the on-trade as well as the off-trade, because there’s so much synergy between the two. It’s about how you make sure consumers are experiencing trends in a consistent way – no matter where and how they want to consume adult drinks.”
Both premiumisation and cocktails have blossomed into the off-trade from their roots in bars, and Halliday predicts we’ll be enjoying more cocktails at home – especially, he says, Spicy Margaritas. And when it comes to trends flowing the other way, the low and no category is top of his list.
“If you look at the size of the non-alcoholic category, it’s largely based on the off-trade. So, I think that is where the trend is really being set. I think what we would love to see in Diageo is that there’s a much bigger reach of that non-alcoholic offering within the on trade, which I’m sure will come and clearly that’s something that we are helping the trade with.”
In terms of future brand innovation, Halliday doesn’t give too much away, though he says we can expect Baileys activity to ramp up around Halloween and into the festive season. He also believes there’s an opportunity for more premiumisation in the RTD space. For now, Halliday is excited about the ongoing Rugby World Cup, and that means Guinness. Nitrosurged, of course.