Irish whiskey war is unlikely to spread to other brands

Don’t expect other whiskey producers to go up against Jameson parent Irish Distillers

Rivals have benefited from the popularity of Jameson

Rivals have benefited from the popularity of Jameson

 

When it comes to the Irish whiskey sector, it is very much an “all for one, one for all” scenario. There might be fierce rivalry behind the scenes, but generally the various producers like to present a united front.

The “rising tide lifts all boats” approach has proven phenomenally successful, as is evident from the growing appeal of whiskey worldwide. While Jameson dominates, with sales of 6.5 million cases globally last year, rival brands have also benefited from its success.

Given that Jameson parent Irish Distillers’ portfolio also includes renowned brands such as Powers, Redbreast and Green Spot, it isn’t surprising to discover that, privately, some distilleries express unease about the power it wields. Nonetheless, few would go so far as the company behind Wild Geese, which this week initiated High Court proceedings against Irish Distillers for allegedly abusing its dominant position.

Protege International and Avalon, which owns the Wild Geese brand, claim its rival has refused to supply it while happily supplying other brands. Not surprisingly, the company is contesting the legal action and says it welcomes the emergence of new players, which, it claims, boosts the development of the sector as a whole.

The company also said it previously offered to supply Wild Geese but couldn’t agree terms with it.

Given that it takes a minimum of three years before the spirit is considered matured, many distilleries are reliant on the bigger established players producing larger volumes to source interim supplies.

While you’d be forgiven for thinking this is simply a local spat, it is anything but. The owners of the Wild Geese brand have been at war with Irish Distillers’ owner, the drinks giant Pernod Ricard, for years, with more than 50 court actions having taken place across the world.

Pernod, which sold the Wild Turkey bourbon brand to Campari in 2013, previously initiated court action against Wild Geese after claiming consumers could be confused by the similarity in product names.

The battle between the two sides is likely to continue but, for now at least, it is unlikely that other brands will break ranks with Irish Distillers, no matter what they might privately think of the company.