The DI interview: Taking Stock in central Europe

02 December, 2008
Christian Davis talks to Neil Everitt and Chris Heath from drinks group Stock Spirits.

The new drinks group Stock Spirits, boasting a roster of executives with impressive drinks industry experience, has set its sights on developing sales in central Europe.

Stock emerged from the sale of Stock Plzen in 2007. The group now comprises Italy's fifth largest drinks company Stock, with its eponymous 84 brandy, and the Polish vodka company Polmos Lublin, which has approximately 6% of Poland's vodka market (the fourth largest in the world). It is also the number one drinks company in the Czech Republic where its Fernet Stock bitter is a major brand.

Chief executive Neil Everitt told Drinks International: "We are looking to invest in countries where there is significant market growth and the opportunity to add value. In most of western Europe, there is little or no growth in spirits."

The Stock Spirits Group is headed by Everitt and chief finance officer Chris Heath, both of whom worked at Allied Domecq. Non-executive chairman Jack Keenan is the man who made Diageo by leading the merger between Grand Metropolitan and Guinness in 1997, followed by the acquisition, with Pernod Ricard, of the huge Canadian-based drinks company, Seagram.

Its operations director, Ian Croxford, was also formerly at Diageo while Tony Roberts, managing director, international, is ex-Remy-Cointreau, William Grant and Whyte & Mackay. Rob Cullins, managing director US, and president of US holding company Heritage Brands, is ex-Southern Wine and Spirits, Diageo and E&J Gallo. 

While the major multinationals such as Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Bacardi and Beam Global are concentrating on new and emerging markets such as the so-called 'BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries', Everitt and Heath believe that countries such as Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia, are ripe for development.

By launching a clear version of Polmos, an established flavoured vodka, Stock claims to have grown 70% year-on-year in the Polish vodka market. It took on the agency for Irish whiskey brand Tullamore Dew in the Czech Republic and claims to have made it the number one whisk(e)y brand there.

Heath said that despite its central European focus, it has launched a super premium Polish vodka, Orzel (means eagle) into four key US states, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Georgia through , Heritage Brands. Retailing at around $34.99, the same as Grey Goose, the vodka is filtered six times through quartz crystals.

Everitt and Health also have aspirations for its Keglevich vodka, Grappa Julia and Limonce lemon liqueur brands. They hope to become number one in Poland where the sales force has doubled and, through Keglevich and Limonce, do better in Italy where there is a growing interest in cocktails.

"Our strategy is to review and improve everything to give the consumer what he or she wants," said Heath.

"What we are doing is not rocket science," said Everitt. "We are looking for great partnerships as with C&C and Tullamore Dew and, with experienced local teams, investing in the brands. As a small group, focusing on central Europe, we see nothing but opportunity."

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