23 January, 2020

Departing Brown-Forman MD's insights on the future of Aussie drinks

Departing Brown-Forman MD's insights on the future of Aussie drinks

After three incredible years in Australia, Brown-Forman's Australian MD Marc Satterthwaite is preparing to return to the United States.

Satterthwaite replaced Michael McShane in the role and brought nearly three decades of industry sales, marketing, and operations experience to the position, having served in a variety of posts within Brown-Forman internationally, including division director for the US Central States and Canada, director of North America Region sales operations, interim country manager for India and US Chief of Staff.

He has also held a number of leadership roles outside the company, most notably as the Chair of the NABCA (US National Alcohol Beverage Control Association) Industry Advisory Committee.

Drinks News asked Satterthwaite about his favourite moments Down Under and his predictions for the spirits sector.

When do you return to the US?

Currently, plans are in place for my assignment to end around September this year. However, I report to others that, ultimately, dictate the exact date. September also coincides with the conclusion of my three-year agreement as well as moving toward the countdown of my Australian visa.

What have been some of the highlights of your time in Australia?

My wife Vicki and I have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. The people are incredible and we have made many lifelong friends. We often joke that we will be "chasing Sydney" the rest of our lives because no place will ever measure up to it! No matter where we live in the future, the Australia experience has made an indelible mark on us.

What insights can you share on what makes the Australian market unique?

Your culture here is something that simply cannot be captured within a few sentences. I believe the distance from so many other countries on the planet creates a spirit of adventure that cannot be denied by the typical Aussie. And, I find this to be quite refreshing. It has certainly made me rethink how narrow we Americans can be around the same subject. 

What is driving the continued popularity of American whiskey in Australia?

Believe me, we are fortunate to have this wonderful whiskey category tailwind to help grow Jack Daniel's and seed Woodford Reserve and Old Forester. The taste for American whiskey has been growing nicely on a worldwide basis and Australia is a key part of this picture. The unique flavour of bourbon or Tennessee whiskey, and the process involved to create each, is recognised and embraced today more than ever before. 

Are there any new trends you see emerging in the spirits space?

We continue to see and benefit from consumers readily moving toward more premium offerings. People are certainly willing to experiment and pay more for unique and better quality spirits. And, this is not necessarily proof or ABV driven as it might have been decades ago.

“When compared to Scotch the super-premium segments of North American whiskey significantly under-index. We have a portfolio of brands with Gentleman Jack and Woodford Reserve both ready to capitalise and drive this growth and deliver on consumers’ ongoing interest in discovery and better quality whiskey."

Satterthwaite at the inaugural launch party of The Drinks Association Mentoring Program

You were a mentor in the Serendis program for The Drinks Association – how did you find that experience?

It was outstanding and a wonderful chance to spend time with someone else, outside of my workforce, and focus on key issues she was facing. Because I was not part of her work group, and did not know the people she worked with/around, it was much easier to be objective and ask better questions.

As an industry, this is exactly where we should be placing our time and attention. I had my entire leadership team involved last year - including our NZ/Pacific Island Area Director who is based in Auckland. The feedback from the Brown-Forman women who were mentored was quite favourable also. I owe their mentors a "Thank You" as well!

The Australian drinks industry is very collegiate – is there the same level of camaraderie in the US?

In many ways, I believe the high excise taxes that are disproportionately borne by the spirits suppliers in Australia certainly provides an impetus for bringing us all a bit closer here. And we are further reminded of this every six months with a CPI rise which, thankfully, is not the norm for the rest of the world.

Through our continued work with Spirits and Cocktails Australia, Brown-Forman supports a CPI tax freeze that would at least slow the ever-increasing prices that Aussies endure.

Additionally, in the US laws dictate that we must sell our products through third party distributors and this can separate and impede the supplier to supplier relationship. However, within both countries the industry does a nice job of coming together around responsible consumption and advertising standards.