Irish Distillers Group was established in 1966, when three major Irish whiskey distilleries, John Jameson & Sons, Powers & Sons and the Cork Distillery merged with the intention to revitalise Irish whiskey sales. The company was restructured and a new purpose-built facility replaced the old distilleries in Cork and Dublin. In 1988 the company joined the global alcohol conglomerate Pernod Ricard. As such, Irish Distillers is responsible for the group’s flagship whiskey brands such as Jameson and their other Irish brands while also handling the sales and marketing of Pernod Ricard’s premier brands in Ireland.
Since joining Pernod Ricard the Jameson sales are constantly growing thanks to the company’s global distribution network and consistent investment in the brand. In 1988, Jameson sold 466,000 cases globally, with Ireland as its main market. In 2015 the sales exceeded 5 million cases, of which a quarter was sold on the American market. Jameson holds almost 70% of the Irish whiskey market share, is sold on over 130 markets and is ranked 15th in the IMPACT Magazine top global brands ranking (a key publication for the global spirits industry).
Over 500 employees operate from four sites: the Head Office in Ballsbridge, Dublin; the main distillery in Midleton, Co. Cork; a bottling and distribution centre in Fox & Geese, Clondalkin, Dublin and a sales and marketing subsidiary in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The company also has two visitor centres based in Cork and Dublin. Recently, Irish Distillers doubled its production capacity by investing over €200 million in a new whiskey maturation facility and expanding the Midleton distillery and the Fox & Geese bottling facility to meet the growing demand for its products.
Design at Irish Distillers is primarily perceived as the aesthetic impression of the brand. However, the company acknowledges the value of strategic design in business. Brendan Buckley, Global Innovation & Prestige Whiskeys Director at Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard, says:
“Right now we are in the more traditional view of design, but we recognise the need to advance our thinking in that regard. We are moving towards more integrated design as a key element of our value proposition, to make it a core component of our brand”.
Design activity in Ireland
The design demand in a big company such as Irish Distillers is considerable and the activities range from graphic, digital and packaging design to exhibition and experience design. Design expertise are required for merchandising and point of purchase design, stand-up exhibitions for mobile events and the company’s two visitor centres which were designed in detail to provide a great brand experience.
Each of these design efforts are coordinated by two professional designers. To cover the company’s needs for design, they often collaborate with external design agencies from both Ireland and abroad. Each brand has its own budget for design which is included in a total marketing budget. The value of an aggregated spend on design fluctuates at around €3-4 million a year depending on the design projects undertaken.
Irish Distillers identifies that the use of design in the company is driven by ongoing demand and sales requirements and the role of design strategy in the implementation of new initiatives. This is crucial for establishing the strategic touchpoints of the brands and the company is currently exploring the possibility of making design a core element of their business strategy.
“At the moment it is about an organisational mind-set shift, but there is no pushback on that. It is merely about finding the right time and resources. I think the resource – people-wise and financial-wise will be made available, and in the coming years we will see a much more elevated role of design in our strategy”.
One concern for the company however is their perceived shortage of experienced strategic designers in Ireland which identifies the growing need for creative professionals in this area.
Design in focus
For many people design is a problem solving method, but Irish Distillers prefer to see it as an enabler of opportunities. The Innovation Department perform the first step by spotting a gap in the market. The company then engage designers to help them create brand solutions to avail of the opportunity. Bringing innovations to a marketplace involves advertising, point of purchase and drinks experiences to be designed. New product launches are multifaceted and design helps to capitalise on every aspect of this process.
Designers were recently involved in exploiting the opportunity to introduce Jameson Caskmates to the market. An innovative collaboration between Irish Distillers and Franciscan Well Brewery, Caskmates bottles Jameson Irish whiskey that has been finished in barrels used by Franciscan Well to finish its craft Irish stout. In its pilot year Jameson Caskmates sold 3,000 bottles nationally and will launch across ten markets in 2015, with volumes expected to reach 85k cases by the end of year one.
Impacts from design
Design is central to the aesthetic and brand elements of the company and plays a strong role in the promotion and success of the company’s products. In this respect it is difficult to separate out the role of design in the overall impact of the company.