A few months ago I interviewed Taygan Govinden, the South African brand manager for Johnnie Walker.
First published in Prestige Magazine (November 2012 edition).
Note: Apologies on behalf of Prestige Magazine for the spelling error in the sub-title of the printed version.
PL: Locally you’re the man at the wheel of the world’s biggest whisky brand. Tell us a bit about yourself.
TG: I’m Durban born and bred but I’ve also lived and worked in the UK and now I’m based in Cape Town. My background is in analytics, which I think has stood me in good stead for what I’m doing now. I’m a big cricket fan, and I enjoy sports in general. Basically I’d describe myself in a nutshell as a passionately South African guy with strong family values.
PL: Johnnie Walker sold 18 million cases in 2011, leaving its rivals trailing by quite some distance. The brand seems to be living its legend – keep walking indeed. What’s the secret to its phenomenal success?
TG: The brand has a pioneering spirit that drives us to innovate as we respond and adapt to our changing consumer preferences. Our heritage is based on the history and tradition of crafting big flavoured whiskies.
PL: The launch of Platinum Label forms part of some wider changes to the core portfolio. Can you elaborate on what’s been involved?
TG: We’ve introduced two new variants – Platinum Label and Gold Label Reserve. At the same time we’re gradually phasing out the old Gold and Green Labels. We are committed to ensuring that our full range of whiskies meet both existing consumer demand and further positions us to fully realise the evolving consumer opportunities of today and tomorrow. We believe that these changes will allow us to optimally realise these objectives.
PL: Whilst it’s still dwarfed by Blended whisky, Malt is on the rise. Last year Glenfiddich became the first single malt to sell a million cases. Green Label itself is the world’s fifth best-selling Malt whisky. So it might be seen as somewhat curious – in an era showing early signs of an increasing appreciation for Malt whisky – that this variant should be discontinued. Can you give us some insights into the rationale for this decision?
TG: We are evolving our range to meet existing consumer needs and build on our heritage of innovation of crafting flavours for contemporary tastes. The success we have seen with Gold Label Reserve in the Asian market gives us confidence that this variant offers a more compelling choice for our market.
PL: Will you be launching the Gold Label Reserve in South Africa? If so, can you give us a sneak peek?
TG: Yes, we’re launching it locally in November. Our consumers can look forward to a blend of premium Scotch whiskies delivering a perfectly mixable whisky with a very smooth taste.
PL: Platinum Label replaces Gold Label, which will now be phased out. What is the difference between the two?
TG: Platinum Label is an entirely new offering and not a reinterpretation of Gold Label. It is crafted from the very best 18 year-old Scotch Whiskies with a new, distinct flavour profile. While Gold Label is delicate and creamy, Platinum Label reflects a strong, sweet and elegant Speyside style with subtle smokiness, stewed fruit, malty cereal, smooth creamy vanilla, and tangerine sweetness.
PL: I recently passed through a duty-free store and I couldn’t help but notice that the price of Platinum Label is some 44% higher than Gold Label. They’re both 18YO and I would imagine that Gold Label contains high-quality, well-aged whiskies. What’s the basis for Platinum Label’s relatively more premium pricing?
TG: It should be priced at a 10% to 20% premium locally. Platinum Label is a completely different whisky to Gold Label and so they should not be compared. The age statement is the only link between these two whiskies.
PL: What will be Platinum Label’s recommended retail pricing in South Africa?