Ashish Gandham on partnership, innovation and levelling up in travel retail

Beam Suntory Global Travel Retail Managing Director Ashish Gandham deep dives into the distillery’s ongoing partnership with Aston Martin and explores how the two houses have stepped up for the second release.

He discusses the similarities between the world of whisky and luxury cars, the values that have brought the two British houses together and the key role of travel retail-exclusives in Bowmore’s long-term strategy. Finally, Gandham delivers a positive prognosis on the channel’s recovery and previews what the future holds for Bowmore and Aston Martin.

“Bowmore and Aston Martin are the pioneers in terms of partnerships between a car brand and a spirits brand,” says Ashish Gandham as he explores the thinking that underpins Bowmore’s ongoing collaboration with Aston Martin.

“However, if you look closer it is something totally different. Over the last two years, as we developed more products and our conversations progressed, it became clear that both companies have been inspiring each other to take our storytelling and innovation to the next level. Now, it is our joint responsibility to bring the fruits of this partnership to our customers.”

With that in mind, Designed by Aston Martin and ARC-52 couldn’t simply be symbolic releases. “They are deliberate, unique and thoroughly considered,” Gandham explains. “We are approaching this partnership with a long-term view. It’s a big platform, a big partnership – and it would be a shame if it ended after just one project.”

Bowmore and Aston Martin, while coming from very different worlds, enjoy a lot of shared values and synergies. “On the surface level, we are both British brands with strong heritages. To me, car manufacturing is all about cutting-edge engineering and doing something that has never been done before.

“Whisky in itself is a blend of art and engineering” – Ashish Gandham

“Whisky in itself is a blend of art and engineering,” he explains. “What defines the character of a whisky comes from the raw materials, process, ageing and blending. To create the best possible whisky, we also employ cutting-edge engineering. This could be through the selection of a bourbon or sherry cask, or doing something nobody else in the industry has attempted”

In terms of synergy, both Bowmore and Aston Martin can never stand still and are committed to finding perfection and innovation. Gandham says, “Balance is a key theme for our partnership. Aston Martin makes their cars look just as good in motion as they do standing still. There’s a timeless quality to stillness and motion. For Bowmore, we talk about timelessness in that our whiskies develop character over time.”

As a Formula 1 fan himself, Gandham offered some of his personal insights into why the whiskies and cars in the Designed by Aston Martin Series 2 collection are such a fine match. “The Aston Martin 1922 GP TT2 was made for the French Grand Prix and it was a very bold design for its time. The 10 Year Old talks to it because that is the starting point of our range, which reflects what Bowmore as a brand stands for as a distillery.

“I’m a Formula 1 fan and have always loved the sound of a V8 engine,” he adds. “The Aston Martin V8 has a lot of flair and panache. To me, that talks to our 15 Year Old which has smoothness and flair, with sweetness coming through from the bourbon fill.

“The 1959 DBR4 marked Aston Martin’s debut in the Formula 1, which is the pinnacle of motor sports. This 18 Year Old whisky is also the pinnacle of Bowmore’s travel retail-exclusive range.”

For Gandham, the second Designed by Aston Martin release reveals a new chapter in the partnership between the two great British houses. This chapter, he says, is all about levelling up the original. “The inaugural Designed by Aston Martin collection was about finding the right Aston Martin cars to match with those whiskies. However, with this second release, our conversations have evolved. It is as if we are peeling the layers and getting to the core of both Aston Martin and Bowmore.

“Last year, we had the DB5, which I thought was a stunning expression,” Gandham recalls. “If you asked me last year, I would have said that we couldn’t possibly outdo that. However, looking at the ARC-52 design, which houses a stunning 52 Year Old whisky, it’s clear that I have been proven wrong. This expression is unlike anything I’ve ever seen or tasted before.”

The Designed by Aston Martin campaign is rolling out in 17 key airport locations including London Heathrow, Singapore Changi, Sanya (Hainan), Amsterdam Schiphol, New York JFK, Frankfurt, Taipei, Istanbul and Dubai. The challenge now, according to Gandham, is how to match the levelling up of the collaboration within the travel retail environment.

He says, “We took the story of Bowmore and Aston Martin and brought it to life through sampling, storytelling, immersive videos, and virtual reality experiences. You can see this with the Hainan pop-up. We wanted to create an immersive in-store experience, amplify the unique qualities of the expressions and bring this to life at scale in our most important airport locations.”

“All three whiskies have our distinctive Bowmore style” – Ron Welsh

Commenting on how super-premium expressions help accelerate Bowmore’s premiumisation drive, Gandham says, “The ARC-52 is not a scale product. When you introduce an innovation like this, it talks about the character of the brand and highlights what makes us unique.

“Bowmore has the ambition to become one of the most premium brands in whisky. The ARC-52 is the pinnacle of what we’ve done with our collaboration with Aston Martin. If you look back at our recent projects, from the ‘No Corners to Hide’ collaboration with Frank Quitely to the Bowmore Timeless Series, you can see that we have the rare and exceptional whiskies to support our premiumisation strategy. These types of launches are integral to our premiumisation strategy.”

Exclusivity is a powerful purchase driver for travel retail consumers, particularly in the spirits category. According to Gandham, travel retail-exclusive releases such as Designed by Aston Martin will always play a key role in Bowmore’s strategy. “Travel transports us to a different mind space. It has always been associated with new experiences, which translates to travellers looking for something different to what is available at home.

“To me, travel retail is the best channel to drive innovation and exclusivity,” Gandham adds. “True innovation is about finding new ways to connect with people and our channel has a unique position in that. If we give travellers an offering that connects with them, wows them and leaves them with good memories – then that is the winning formula.”

For Gandham, blockbuster launches and campaigns have an important role to play in driving the recovery of the category and the wider travel retail channel. He says, “People are travelling with a vengeance and spending more than before. When the pandemic first began, there was a big question mark over whether people would return to stores and engage with brands and sales staff in the same level.

“Now, there is no longer any question. People are back in stores. They are looking for innovation and recovery has been faster than what we had anticipated in the category. Bowmore is tracking ahead of expectations. We expected to reach 2019 levels by 2024, but will be reaching that by next year,” he adds.

“Now more than ever, customers are looking for unique and exclusive products. If brands can’t give that to them, then they will go down the pecking order of priorities. Bowmore’s innovation pipeline is key to us reaching our goal of becoming an industry leader in premium and super-premium spirits. We can’t have that ambition and not have an innovation pipeline. At the end of the day, our pipeline reflects what the channel needs – and that’s distinctive, memorable and special products that customers can’t find anywhere else.”

So what does the future hold for Bowmore and Aston Martin? Gandhamresponds, “While I can’t go into the specifics of our upcoming launches, what I can say is that we’ll continue to bring special, exclusive products to travel retail. We will continue to deliver the ultimate that a whisky and luxury car company can produce.

“I’m intrigued by what future iterations of this partnership will bring. Because I know, that with every conversation and every launch, we are pushing each other to greater heights – and I’m looking forward to seeing the results.”

Spotlight Series - August 2022

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