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kopi-C with Emperador’s international division CEO: Think global, adapt local

13 Dec 2023

Emperador has established itself as the first and only Philippine international consumer company with operations around the world. CEO and President of its international division Glenn Manlapaz explains its localised approach.

Emperador Glenn Manlapaz

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kopi-C is a regular column by SGX Research in collaboration with Beansprout that features C-level executives of leading companies listed on SGX. These interviews are profiles of senior management aimed at helping investors better understand the individuals who run these corporations.

With the liquor giant’s global reach, someone could be drinking one of Emperador’s brandies, single malts or other spirits at every minute of every day. “We’re always engaging with our consumers across the world, and that is something that drives Emperador to do even better,” says Glenn Manlapaz, chief executive officer and president of its international division.

Emperador has grown its presence in more than 100 countries. Its whiskies and brandies are sold in travel retail shops in at least 400 international airports. It is the world’s largest brandy maker by volume, the fifth biggest Scotch whisky maker in Scotland and a vertically-integrated organisation with its own vineyards, distilleries and production facilities around the globe. 

Manlapaz credits the firm’s dominance to a series of strategic moves, including several canny acquisitions. It purchased Bodegas Fundador, Spain’s biggest and oldest brandy maker, as well as Scottish single malt producer Whyte & Mackay, which gave it a portfolio of highly-demanded single malt Scotch whisky brands such as the Dalmore, Jura, Fettercairn and Tamnavulin. 

Its most important strategy for growth, however, is to constantly apply the precept of ‘thinking global, adapting local’. Manlapaz shares: “We listen to our consumers, distributors and other business partners to make sure that we understand each local market and position ourselves accordingly. This has worked out very well for us.”

Listening and localising

He gives the example of Emperador’s push to introduce Jura in Asian markets. “Jura is a very Europe-centric brand, and when we started to develop Jura in Asia, it didn’t work at first. The taste profile of Jura, which is very popular in the West, was not accepted by the Asian palate. Forcing the product would not have succeeded.”

After consulting with its consumers and partners, it innovated and created the Jura 12-year-old sherry cask, a whisky with the flavours of plum, citrus, raisins, dark toffee, grilled banana, coffee and others more likely to be embraced by Asian drinkers. Since it launched the product as an Asian exclusive, it has flown off the shelves in many markets in the region. 

Its marketing plan in Singapore reflects this localised approach too. “Singapore consumers are among the most mature and advanced consumers when it comes to alcoholic beverages, so we need to be equally smart and intelligent. You’re not going to interest them with things like a buy-one-get-one-free campaign or a free keychain,” Manlapaz explains. 

Instead, the company hosts single malt whisky and brandy masterclasses and other direct consumer-facing initiatives so that people can learn about its products and ask questions. It also deploys whisky experts who can delve into the brands’ histories and stories, and each individual spirit’s nuances, with consumers and influencers. “These are much more effective than traditional advertising.”

Manlapaz notes: “When the Dalmore, Tamnavulin, and Fundador Supremo were launched in Asia, we were the last in our industry to enter the market. We were so late that everyone else was there already. But right now, our iconic brands are among the top ten in Greater China. We now have a bigger market share than some of our competitors. This shows that what we are doing works.”

Seizing the moment

He adds that Emperador’s agility and decisiveness are among its strengths. “I have been in the alcohol beverage industry for 30 years, and Emperador is more entrepreneurial than the rest of the sector. We think about what we need to do, make a decision and move fast to execute it. That makes a big difference.”

When it acquired Whyte & Mackay, the latter’s range of iconic brands were largely unknown and unavailable in Asia. “Our first executive order was to make Whyte & Mackay truly a single malt company, and to market its brands like the Dalmore in the luxury space. These made the positioning of the brands very clear, which helped us to make progress in more markets.”

To expand its customer base in the Philippines, it developed a light whisky-like spirit called Charles and James for people who are just starting to drink whisky. “In some businesses where I’ve had the chance to collaborate to develop a brand or product, it took so long that by the time it came out, the opportunity was fizzling out. In Emperador, we act quickly.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many alcohol beverage firms struggled as they had focused on boosting their on-trade sales, to places that sell the beverages for immediate consumption, such as bars, restaurants and pubs. Most of these establishments were closed as part of safety regulations in the midst of the crisis. 

“At Emperador, we moved our resources right away to other sales channels that were stronger at the time. So even though we were being hit by various issues in the United States, Europe and Asia, we were still in fighting fit condition. For those few years from 2020 to 2022, when many markets and industries were in trouble, Emperador was alive and kicking.”

A toast to the future

Looking ahead, Manlapaz believes that the firm will rise to new heights, partly due to several promising trends. “Whisky as a product category has been steadily growing. There may have been some bumps in the road along the way, but it is growing. The growth of single malts over the last 10 years, in particular, has been nothing short of phenomenal.”

Consumers are also increasingly open to spirits from around the world. “When Emperador Light Brandy was brought to the United States, Canada, and the UAE, when Fundador Brandy was launched in Greater China, we were targeting Filipinos working and living there, and they were very happy to support us. But other ethnic groups, and even the local consumers, started to pick up on us and were very interested in our products. We see this openness in many places.”

Emperador has also set its sights on China and India. Manlapaz points out that 95 per cent of alcohol consumed in China is baijiu (Chinese white liquor). “If Chinese consumers start to drink more brown spirits like single malts, which we have begun to see, and if India’s consumption of Scotch whisky increases due to reduced tariffs  – when these two markets explode, there won’t be enough whisky in the world.”

With these and other prospects, he continues to be excited about Emperador’s future. “This is one of the most fast-paced and dynamic industries, and it’s my world for at least 12 hours a day,” he says. “When I sit with my superiors, work with my team internationally, look at our brands and chat with our business partners, I’m inspired every day to go further.”

About Emperador Inc.

Emperador Inc. is a global spirits conglomerate that owns an iconic brandy portfolio led by Spanish brandy Fundador and Emperador Brandy, the world’s largest-selling brandy by volume. Emperador Inc. also owns Whyte & Mackay, the world’s fifth largest Scotch whisky producer that owns a sublime and impressive single malt portfolio. The company’s Tamnavulin Speyside Highland Single Malt is the world’s fastest growing single malt in the last five years. Tamnavulin Single Malt is now available in Asia – in China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and the Philippines. Emperador products are available in over 100 countries across six continents. Emperador Inc. is a publicly-listed company at both the Philippine Stock Exchange and the Singapore Exchange.

The company’s website is https://www.emperadorbrandy.com/

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