Spotlight Interview: Laurent Lacassagne

The quiet and unassuming Laurent Lacassagne is co-founder of Brixton Distillery. As of this week Brixton Distillery celebrated their 1st anniversary so we sat down with Laurent to discuss topics such as the difference between running global and local drinks brands, his advice for new spirits brands as well as potential challenges in a post Covid world. Intrigued? Read on….

Previous to founding this drinks startup, Laurent had a glittering drinks career with CFO and CEO positions at Pernod Ricard. We’ve been working with Laurent now for over a year, helping him launch his Market Row Rum.

How did you start in the industry?

I came from a finance background – auditing and accountancy. However I realised that I wanted to be a ‘doer’ rather than an accountant and I went for a job interview with Pernod Ricard – a company that I didn’t really know very well before. I was very impressed from the start and was interviewed by the number two in the company – it was obvious from the long interview that they were a people focused company and I joined the team when I was 28.

I rose to being CFO of Pernod and worked on various acquisition projects including the Seagram acquisition. After that I became CEO of their wine division before taking over as Director General of Pernod Ricard Europe. My last job with Pernod was CEO of Chivas Brothers – so head of the whisky business globally.

Ethics and company culture is superb at Pernod and I was very pleased to see them grow by such a huge amount over the 30 years I was with them.


What has been your proudest moment in your career so far?

I have a few good memories. When you manage great teams you often feel proud.

However, my proudest moment was when we – Pat, my business partner, and I – produced our first bottle of Market Row. It was a very positive moment and quite emotional, we’d brought a brand to life from scratch. It’s the bonus of being an entrepreneur – bringing things to life is an amazing feeling.


What current projects are you working on?

Obviously Market Row is a big part of what I do, but I’m also investing into start-up brands in both the UK and France. These can be anything from tech companies to marketing apps – I like disruptive ideas.

I like projects that are more than just business, are not limited to money making, but are responsible and ethical – giving back to society and protecting the environment. Market Row is all about the local community and giving back, I want to have that same ethical point of view with all of my investments and projects.


What are the main challenges of running a global brand?

Duality is difficult when you are managing different global platforms. We are becoming more global so you need to balance the local view point with the global image.

Message – how do you make it relevant to each market? You need to be global and very local at the same time – how do you balance this? Developing different markets with a consistent marketing message and at the same time being relevant to the local markets is a challenge.

The fundamentals need to remain the same and what really matters is that the message is consistent in every market.


What have been the main differences between running a global brand and starting a brand from scratch?

From the brand point of view there is no difference, as the brand messages should be consistent whatever the size of the brand – that’s just a matter of scale.

With Market Row, Pat and I wanted to develop a consistent marketing journey in exactly the same way as we approached brands at Pernod, but it’s the execution that is very different as you are starting from scratch with a start up..

What advice do you have for new brands coming to market?

Consistency is key. It’s easy to manage the marketing message of a brand that is up and running, whereas with a start up you might not perceive it as a priority.

Starting and building a new brand is a long journey, you need patience and the war is won on the ground. 10% is on the creative and 90% on the way you execute the plan – and that’s hard when you have limited resources.

‘make a friend everyday’

I always think of Paul Ricard when he said ‘make a friend everyday’ – this is a great summation of what should happen in the on trade. Growing relationships takes time, but it’s those networks and relationships that are important on the journey of growing a brand. It’s very important to grow your brand gradually and consistently.

I would also recommend keeping your long term goal in mind and make sure you are not put off that goal by what happens on a day to day basis.

Finally having a great team is essential – growing a brand is always a team story!


What are the major trends that you have seen happen over your career?

The are some very strong underlying trends:

  • Geographic expansion – western style drinks brands have become global brands
  • Emergence of a global middle class – this has a big impact on what is being drunk around the world
  • Premiumisation – people in general are drinking less but drinking better
  • Shift from male domination to much more of a balance between male and female
  • The ‘craft’ movement – people are at the forefront of the drinks movement – there are many more personality driven brands – we used to say that Chivas was one of the biggest craft brands in the world
  • The spirits industry is embracing sustainability. It might need a bit of a catchup, but the core values of how you source the ingredients, how you make it, and interaction with supply chain is starting to happen

The drinks industry reinvents itself every 10 years or so – the spirits industry in particular, look at the way rum is coming back.


What makes a brand attractive and attractive acquisition for a big drinks conglomerate?

The big corporates are looking for innovation and creativity. The big companies are looking increasingly to new brands to bring new ideas, energy and personality to them. Big acquisitions are not so popular these days.

In general they are looking for brands that have got:

  • Relevance to local markets
  • Engagement with consumers
  • Relevance of platform
  • Relevance of message
  • A record that these can be demonstrated in one or two markets
  • Scalability once they are integrated into the big corps distribution and systems

Big corps are now actively looking to integrate brands into their portfolios as early as possible – look at what Diegeo have done with Distill Ventures – incubating very young brands. I don’t see this trend stopping as it’s relatively low risk strategy for the corps.

What do you see as the main challenges and possible opportunities in a post Covid world?

Covid is a big challenge and will remain a challenge for many years. We will have to adapt and it will have consequences for a long time. Adaptations will happen and what will be the future of socialising – this is the key question as the drinks industry is so connected to this issue via bars, clubs, restaurants etc.

I’m convinced that socialising will change dramatically – but we need to meet, this is essential. The Zoom calls are no proper alternative to meeting in person. Zooms have revalidated meeting each other and we’ve seen how eager to meet each other after these lockdowns. There’s a saying that ‘everything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and as an industry we need to bear this in mind when it comes to socialising.

We need to look at every aspect with our partners in the on trade and how to support them, but we must also recognise that at home consumption is a major factor now. Supporting each other is key.

It was fascinating interviewing with someone who has been in charge of major global brands for decades. Laurent has got a unique view on launching brands having done so from a corporate perspective and now alongside Pat Venning with their fantastic brand Market Row from their own micro-distillery in Brixton.  

A big thank you to Laurent for his time. We work well together with Laurent and Market Row because we share the same beliefs in building great relationships and growing a brand sustainably and consistently for the long term.