Philip Almond: 'Baileys is currently something you treat yourself to. In a recession people hunker down and we're suffering from that'

THE Guinness Storehouse is packed with tourists on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. One place not on the regular part of the tour of the country's premier visitor attraction is the global head office for the marketing team behind Baileys Irish Cream, which is tucked away quietly from the rest of the heaving tourist attraction.

It's a small enough base for the branding team of a dozen behind the top-selling liqueur but there are hundreds more staff to call on around the world, Philip Almond, the global marketing director for Baileys, says. Those staff are about to get very busy as Almond, a veteran of Diageo (the UK-based drinks company that owns Baileys), sets about arresting the decline in Baileys sales in the last few years. Net sales of Baileys were down 7%, according to the most recent figures from Diageo, which covers the six months to the end of last December.

Almond, 48, is no stranger to the Baileys brand. As head of Diageo's UK marketing team he was responsible for the company's biggest brands, which include Guinness, Smirnoff, Bells and Pimms. He was appointed to the Baileys job a year ago and spends about three days a week at the St James's Gate brewery.

The slide in the sales of Baileys may not be as severe as some drinks on the market but Almond isn't taking any comfort from that and has plans to reverse it. Part of the decline is the fact that Baileys is sold as a premium product and the reluctance of consumers in its main market of North America and Western Europe to splash out is hurting. It doesn't help that, despite the fact it is the seventh biggest-selling spirits brand in the world, for most people it isn't their regular tipple when they wander into a pub.

"Baileys is currently something you treat yourself to. In a recession people hunker down and we're suffering from that. There's a tendency for consumers to come off things they regard as a treat or indulgence," he says. "We have huge numbers of people who say they love it and drink it regularly and relatively few who do drink it regularly compared with other alcoholic drinks. It tends to be more of an occasional drink and it tends to be more seasonal. It is not often somebody's main drink. It is something they will turn to now and again."

While never neglected by its parent company, Baileys has fallen off the radar a bit and Almond says there will be a new marketing drive to give the brand a push. Added to the campaign to reinvigorate sales is the launch of another flavoured version of Baileys, to supplement existing ones such as coffee, caramel and mint, which have proved popular with consumers. Just what the new flavour is will remain a mystery for another few months as Almond says it is a closely-held secret within the company. The danger, though, with too many variations on flavour is that it takes away from the original product, he says.

"It is a brand that responds to marketing pressure. The main thing is the taste. You do too much and you go too far away from the base brand and you risk damaging it. It's not like vodka where you can add mixes. People know and love and have an expectation of a Baileys taste," he says.

Though sales in Ireland are "stable to slightly declining", Almond says there are a few tentative signs that its major international markets are showing improvement.

"The US is tough but slowly coming out of recession. [Britain] is looking strong for us actually this year. Other markets you'd expect – Spain, Italy and Ireland – are still very tough."

In the near-term Almond is focussing on rebuilding sales in America and Europe, where Baileys still hasn't exploited its full potential.

"If I could get the per capita [sales] in the US to be the same as Canada that gets me more than two million [extra] cases. If I could get four other European markets to the same level as [the UK] I could get another two or three million cases. So that is before I even start on places we haven't really been.

But he is eyeing emerging markets, which account for a lesser proportion of Baileys sales than many other brands in the Diageo portfolio. He also points to Brazil, where there are now 23 million people who would be defined as middle class consumers, making it a market the size of Australia at the moment.

"We are starting to get going in Asia but it is still relatively small. We've been busy in our core markets of Europe and North America but are only getting into emerging markets. If I'm looking five or 10 years out I would want the proportion of Baileys in those emerging markets to be close on what it is in the rest of the Diageo portfolio, which would be 30% and we are probably at about 10%. There is going to be a lot of growth generally in those markets and there is no reason why Baileys shouldn't be part of that."

The enormous potential for new markets is bound to be good news for the Irish dairy industry, which supplies the milk that goes into Baileys. About 80% of all the ingredients that go into Baileys are sourced on the island of Ireland and the drink is one of the country's biggest exports.

Even allowing for the short-term challenges, Almond says he's confident that Baileys will resume growth. It may be one of the youngest brands in the Diageo group, but he points out, Irish drinks have a history of thriving.

"Great brands like this aren't successful by accident. Managing big brands in a recession is the right place to be. You look at most of our brands – Bushmills is 400 years old, Guinness is 250. These brands have seen more wars, revolutions, economic crises than we will ever see and they've come through because they are great products. They are safe ships in a storm."

Curriculum Vitae

Philip Almond

Age: 48

Education: Queens College Cambridge, MBA from London Business School

Position: Global marketing director, Baileys Irish Cream

Family: Married to Kate. They have four children, two boys and two girls