Owning the cocktail

06 June, 2018

Mark de Witte, ceo of De Kuyper,has transformed the sleepy dutch distiller into a force to be reckoned with in the labyrinthian, mixed, infused world of cocktails. Christian Davis goes to Rotterdam


FROM A SPORTS shop to personal healthcare, to Melitta coffee then Seagram and Bacardi, Mark de Witte is now liqueur king at Dutch distiller De Kuyper.

As a famous footwear company proclaims: Just do it. Now De Witte aims to “own the cocktail”.

Through refocusing, restructuring and reorganising – readjusting just about everything – he is taking the still family-owned Dutch company, best known for its huge range of liqueurs, on a journey.

De Kuyper was founded in 1695 and De Witte joined as CEO in July 2015. What he obviously brings to the company is big-time corporate skills, such as focus, the importance of structure and organisation, but also energy, enthusiasm and the importance of adherence to teamwork – getting people to buy into the vision.

The fact that the company has a liqueur called Napoleon, as in Mandarine, might seem indicative of De Witte’s vision and leadership skills.

His biography boasts: “Managed in 11 European countries and was eight years member of the European leadership team of Bacardi, the third-largest global premium spirits company, selling, marketing and distributing around 20 premium and super-premium brands, such as Bacardi, Grey Goose, Bombay Sapphire, Dewar’s, Patrón and Martini.” Impressive.

He is 58 when many people start thinking about pensions, hobbies, grandchildren, putting their feet up. “I still have the energy,” he says chirpily in his office on an industrial estate near Rotterdam. “In 2015, I was 55 and still hoping for another 10-12 years. I wanted more independence and I wanted something slightly less ‘political’,” he says diplomatically.

In what, where? “Drinks or other luxury goods,” he responds. He was contemplating a job with Poggenpohl, the German luxury kitchen company – in fact, the Rolls Royce of kitchens. But then De Kuyper came knocking. Hardly surprising as, for about the past 50 years, nothing much had happened at De K other than adding another flavour to its already extensive liqueur range.

“I wanted to make a change,” he says, understatedly. A presentation setting out the company’s stall quotes survival of the species proponent, Charles Darwin, who, according to a De Kuyper presentation once said: “The most agile wins, who can adapt best – not the biggest and even not the fastest wins, but the one who understands how to adapt.”


De Kuyper’s portfolio of ‘vision-building brands’ include: Rutte genever, Mandarine Napoleon, Peachtree, Warninks advocaat, Drop Shot, Kwai Feh lychee liqueur and Choco Vine, the Dutch chocolate and French Cabernet Sauvignon liqueur.

Last year it bought the Danish cherry liqueur brandy, Peter Heering, best known as an ingredient in one of the world’s classic cocktails, the Singapore Sling, as well as Blood & Sand. More recently, it has taken on the agency for Beam Suntory brands in the Netherlands. And there’s more.

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Nick Strangeway

Bar food's blurred lines

Once upon a time pubs and bars were somewhere you went with the sole purpose of getting pissed and there wasn’t a knife and fork in sight, just a packet of dry roasted nuts.