Diageo, manufacturer of spirits like Johnnie Walker, Ciroc and Ron Zacapa, has been consistent in its global campaign for the training of bartenders to promote drinking culture. During a recent tour of Nigeria, the group’s Brand Ambassador for spirits, Tim Etherington-Judge, spoke to Raheem Akingbolu on the market, among other issues. Excerpts:
Portfolio as the Face of Diageo Spirits
Like you rightly said I am the reserve brand ambassador for Africa for Diageo. I represent the reserve portfolio in Africa for brands such as Syrup Vodka, Don Hulo, Johnnie Walker blue label, Johnnie Walker platinum label 18, among others.
The Johnnie Walker Brand
Johnnie Walker is the world largest international spirit brand. It is built on the backbone of 200 years of heritage, coming from Johnnie Walker to Alexander Walker, leading to the building of brands like Johnnie Walker Red label and Johnnie Walker Black label. It is the most popular Scotch whisky in the world. It has been a 200 years journey from the start when it began in the shop to where it is today.
Future of the Market
The future is very bright for the Nigerian market. We are 100 per cent committed to working with Nigerians to raise the quality of the people drinking. It is not just being in the brown building but to impact on the drinking culture. Don’t forget, there is growing emerging middle class here. It is a great opportunity for our reserved brands at top end. We see a great opportunity here as Africa is most exciting region in the world right now and in fact that is why I come to work in Africa as I truly believe this.
Aim of Current Nigerian Tour
I am in Nigeria to take our reserve portfolio to the next level in Nigeria. I am here to work with a lot of bartenders and bar owners to upscale their skills and by that create more awareness about our portfolio of products. First of all, we are going to provide trainings for bar tenders in Lagos to help them improve on their standard to a much higher level. What we want to achieve is to make the bar tenders to make better drinks, knowing well that better drinking with better brands is the future of the market.
If we fail to upscale the bartenders, especially in Africa, it will not help the fortune of our brand. The essence of the whole thing is about promoting better drinking culture globally. At Diageo, we considered it as our responsibility to help people drink better around the world. No matter which social demographics market you belong to, we are out to help you enjoy your spirit as more.
Bartending in Nigeria and Africa
Africa is diverse with good population to work with. Talking about bartending experience in Nigeria, I can say it has been fantastic. The bartenders I interacted with were much of higher level than I was expecting. We had a lot of fun and a lot of engagements. Last Friday, we organised an event to help people make their cocktails.
Lessons from Nigeria
This is my first visit to Nigeria and I must confess I am learning more about Nigeria. Every market that I go to, I try as much as possible to tailor my presentation differently in a way it would work for the market. What worked in London may not necessarily work in Nigeria. I am learning more about the Nigerian market. I have been working with four bartenders in Lagos, I think there are a lot of passion, excitement and a real willingness to learn and search for knowledge. The questions kept coming.
That is what I have seen so far –positive response. There has not been a lot of education before. Even in London, if you take your mind back to 20 years ago, bartenders knew nothing. That is where we are now in Africa. The bartenders here want to know and are very passionate. I believe with this education, the growth of the bartender industry in the next 5 years here will be enormous.
Among Diageo’s Patrons
Nigeria is the world biggest market for Guinness. It is very important market for us. We also believe there is a huge potential for spirit in this market. Nigeria has a taste for spirit. In Diageo, we have the biggest brands in the world. We are 100 per cent committed to working with Nigeria on all our programmes.
Journey as a Brand Ambassador
I have been involved in this for almost two and half years now. I spent two years in India and came to Africa in the middle of January. Each country has been very different from other. South Africa is a much more urban and Westernised country, compared to other countries in Africa. There is very high level of bartending. The skills are there. It is a very big market for us. For instance, I love places like Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Unexpectedly, Ghana is a bit laid-back but they are very lovely people, very friendly with a great potential. It is a safe country. There is a lot of western investment and a lot of expert working in the beverage industry. Talking about Nigeria, we have a huge market in Africa that is very important. Nigerians are full of energies, compared to Ghanaians who are a bit relaxed. Nigeria is full of fun.
In 2005, I was working in United Kingdom running a beach resort. Then, my mother passed away. There is a kind of monumental moment in your life that you would want to go into the path of inspiration. I decided to use that opportunity to chase my dream by becoming a bar tender. Thereafter, I entered into a lot of competitions, won contest and travelled the world based on that pursuit. I realised this is my kind of calling; it was not a job but a passion.
Later on, I worked with a very famous bar in India. From there, Diageo came calling asking if I could be interested in becoming a brand ambassador. It is really the reserve portfolio because it is far away the best portfolio in the world covering all categories of sphere from blended scotch, gin to rum. Each of these categories has a leading brand. It has been a wonderful journey that I have been on since.
That is the fact. We are developing brand ambassadors for each market. Nigeria has brand ambassador, Cameroun has an ambassador. South Africa has 3 ambassadors. I will continue to travel around the region, doing what I do. I will be supported by brand ambassadors within each market.
Means of Achievement
It is a work in progress. It is working market by market. It is working excellently in Nigeria. Market by market, we are slowly building human capabilities, skill level across the region. We will bring out the quality and standard of bar tending, bars, cocktails. That is our goal.
Learning about Diageo Products
Like I just said, this is also work in progress. I feel really interested in spirits, cocktails. I have been in contact with this for seven years. I have taken it upon myself to learn more by training others. I have never been to bar school or any official training academy. I am always learning everywhere I go. I keep myself and my eyes open. Life is School. I have an open mind.
Johnnie Walker in two words