interview by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Anthony Georgieff

Jelena Lalic, CEO of Pernod Ricard Bulgaria, on how to have perfect blend between pleasure and responsible consumption

Jelena Lalic, Pernod Ricard Bulgaria.jpg

The wine and spirits market is in a constant flux and for a connoisseur following and understanding the trends is both exiting and a bit disorienting. There are few people who can better navigate the matter than Jelena Lalic, the new CEO of Pernod Ricard Bulgaria. Pernod Ricard is an international leader in distribution of high-quality wines and spirits, boasting the most comprehensive portfolio in the world. Before taking over its Bulgarian branch, the Serbia-born Jelena Lalic was the finance director of Pernod Ricard Adriatics.

What are the peculiarities of the Bulgarian imported wine and spirits market? How do they compare to the ones in the Western Balkans and Western Europe?

Last year Bulgaria experienced its strongest GDP growth since 2008, reaching 3.8%. So I am quite optimistic about the region compared to other developed and emerging markets in the medium and long-term run. The good economic performance will be a result of improving consumer confidence, a pick-up in EU funded projects, cheap exports and strong fixed investment.

In terms of consumer trends the influence of premium labels all across continues, because of the overarching trend we have from a consumer perspective. Bulgarians are interested in knowing more about the history and production methods behind what they drink. And they enjoy experimenting across categories and styles.

Certain categories continue to grow with Scotch and Irish whiskey marking outstanding performances.

The rise of Irish whiskey is thanks in part to a broader consumer demographic. Perhaps more so than any other segment within brown spirits, it counts women among loyal drinkers. They are about 40 percent of the consumers, and are at least partially attracted by the Irish whiskey's sweeter and smoother feel.

The category also boasts one of the world's top alcohol brands, Jameson. The strong and diverse premium varieties of Irish whiskey, like Jameson Caskmates made in barrels formerly used in ageing craft beer, appeal to craft drinkers.

Cocktail culture is growing with more bartenders developing and education consumers on new flavours and ways of drinking, like aperitifs and low alcoholic drinks in general. The trend was directly imported from Italy and Greece.

Gin is flourishing to an extent that we use the term "ginaissance" to describe its growing consumption not only during summer as the ubiquitous G & T but throughout the year.

In wines, rosé continues its transition from a hot-weather wine to a year-round top seller. As the category attracts more attention and expands, consumers will now look for more than typical sweet Provence rosé. Some people think rosé is only made in Provence and Bordeaux, but others are now looking for new and different varieties of this wine. We also note a recent rise of sparkling and premium wines.

What is the idea of the company's motto, Créateurs de convivialité?

At Pernod Ricard, convivialité is our business and our raison d'être. Our goal is to encourage people to go out in search of friends, old and new, as such encounters create a better world. We’re all enriched by the differences we find in others. That tagline is intended as a call to action, inviting each of our 18,500 employees to place a Pernod Ricard brand at every one of those encounters to make it a "convivial experience" – a simple, genuine, direct and authentic shared moment that brings sincere happiness.

Convivialité – the energy and pleasure of sharing an experience together – has always been at the forefront of Pernod Ricard's corporate ID. Up to that point we had provided brilliant products to enhance these experiences. Now we want to go further – to create those moments and connections. Before we had brought the drinks, now we will throw the party.

The "experience economy" is the new frontier. People from different generations and social backgrounds are now more interested in real-life experiences. This is signalling a major shift in consumer preferences. Across the demographic spectrum people are more interested in experiencing rather than in owning. With its focus on convivialité Pernod Ricard helps consumers to gain a sense of community - and we are interested in building connections between people.

The company has dozens of initiatives inspired by this motto, focusing on leaving a positive trace in society. One of the most interesting ones is Responsib'all Day: a day when the company's all 18,500 employees leave work to show that being a part of Pernod Ricard is not only about having skills and professionalism, but also about being responsible to the society and our shared environment.

It is a long-term effort with impressive results. In 2017, we initiated the renovation of the "face" of the National Academy of Arts in Sofia: the legendary Atelier 1 where the future artists of Bulgaria study. The company manages to attract a number of partners in our social projects who back the causes with their resources and shared philosophy of aiming towards positive and effective change in our environment in the name of future generations.

In this year's Responsib'all Day we will partner with the Rotaract Club Sofia Vitosha-Izgrev, which focuses on green ideas, development of personal potential, team work, Bulgarian folklore, schools for sight impaired people, helping causes dedicated to service to the community.

On this day, not only the employees of Pernod Ricard Bulgaria, but the rest of their colleagues working in more than 85 Pernod Ricard branches across the world will participate in over 100 local projects. Thus they will show their engagement and contribution to the society in which they live.

What are the current world trends in alcohol?

This year, the focus appears to be location, location, location. Vodka-makers are focusing on provenance and terroir, English gin is continuing to expand, and hyperlocal spirits such as China's Baijou and Sochu are set to become a big topic.

Experimenting with different botanicals and flavours has made gin the success story of 2017. It will continue to develop towards flavoured gins like honey or strawberry such as the new addition to the Beefeater family – Beefeater Pink. For one, it carries with it credentials of a natural ingredient, and millennials hate artificial flavourings. With the acquisition of the German dry gin Monkey 47 two years ago we now have a product perfectly matching the rising demand for craft gin with strong local roots worldwide. As Mr. Alexandre Ricard said, "we found a jewel."

Whiskey continues to grow. As bourbon and Irish varieties will continue spearheading growth through savvy positioning, approachability credentials, versatility and bold experimentation, it will be within Scotch where the battle lines between tradition and innovation are drawn and the fine balance between tradition and innovation will have to be struck.

Cross-pollination is a key trend for many aspects of the 2018 alcohol industry. Jameson recently launched an IPA cask-aged expression, while Scotch producers are diversifying to stay relevant to an increasingly informed and curious consumer base.

Allowing room for interpretation of centuries-old regulations, utilising untapped cask types, providing transparency on proportional age statements, taking a shot on once sacrilegious canned and pouch formats and bringing singular grains to the forefront, Whisky 2.0 could well be just around the corner.

A return to vodka's unpretentious positioning and high energy roots and its evolution through hyperlocal campaigns and global iterations will begin to stem the tide in its core markets.

At a consumer level the rise of social media seems unstoppable: look out for even more whisky blogs and vlogs, fairs and events, and somewhat counterintuitively more books and magazines. Even in an increasingly-digital world, print is not dead, especially if you're selling heritage and provenance. Also, in the world of online "fake news," print offers more credibility and reassurance. Marketers will need to tailor and individualise messages, engaging with the "experience economy" through evolving physical whisky tours and VR experiences.

With some distillery visitor centres now charging up to 1,000 euros per person for personalised tours, the opportunity to market the distillery as the brand home has never been more lucrative, though a new generation of distillery managers will have to adopt a highly-visible public persona.

What is the concept behind Pernod Ricard's wine portfolio? What distinguishes them from the rest on a very competitive market?

Our wine portfolio is one of the most comprehensive and diverse in the industry, steeped in history and heritage from some of the world's most iconic regions. Several markets are currently executing a portfolio campaign approach across wine and spirits. We know that each of our wine brands appeal to different consumer segments and moments of conviviality. Our portfolio provides shoppers with a genuine choice to different socio demographics, segments and wine occasions. These wine occasions will play an important role in maximising the presence of wine in key markets. It is our role to tap into these wine occasions, opening up our world of wines to markets and our consumers.

What is your advice for responsible consumption of alcohol?

For Pernod Ricard sustainability and responsibility are a key enabler for business and a catalyser for growth. Our group is increasingly a subject to legal reviews and ratings by external stakeholders, for which collaboration between HQ and markets is fundamental, and we are proud that our performance is improving with the years. We initiated some wonderful programmes in India, Vietnam, Argentina, Europe, inspiring others. Giving a purpose to our brands and our people is essential to ensure a bright and sustainable future to Pernod Ricard.

Alcohol has been consumed and enjoyed around the world for millennia. Production, consumption patterns and drinking habits differ widely between countries and regions. These products, when consumed responsibly, are compatible with a balanced and healthy lifestyle and are enjoyed in a responsible way by the vast majority of consumers.

An estimated 20 to 40% of road accidents worldwide are due to irresponsible alcohol consumption. Assisting society by reducing the number of alcohol related accidents is a top priority for Pernod Ricard across the world.

Pernod Ricard has developed a number of initiatives to highlight the dangers of drinking and driving. Although all messages inform drivers of the dangers of consuming alcohol before driving, the approach in each country is noticeably different due to the local regulations and context. Current messages are categorised in:

No drinking whatsoever when driving: "Don't Drink & Drive."

Finding alternate solutions: "Designated Driver."

Respecting legal limits: "Know your limits, use of breathalysers."

Effects of driving when over the limit: "Drunk driving vs. drink driving."

As a reminder, our policy is: "Alcohol, I'm in control."

Pernod Ricard actively promotes Don't Drink & Drive, as the best way to avoid alcohol related accidents is to eliminate the risk. The company recommends finding an alternative solution (designated driver, shuttles, taxi, public transportation or booking a hotel room) and recommends using a breathalyser to check the blood alcohol content and ensure it is under the legal limit.

Our mobile application – The Wise Drinking app – comes handy when one is interested to know how alcohol affects body functions depending on consumed volume and body weight.

On Responsib'all Day there is absolutely NO drinking & driving. Either the person finds an alternative solution to get home if they drink, or the they does not drink at all. The use of breathalysers on this day is NOT a preferred option.

Drinking responsibly in all situations is a must. As ambassadors of our products, we need to be exemplary.


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