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The Art of Mastering Barrel Programs at Pernod Ricard with Cat Salter

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21/02/2024 Cat Salter sheds light on the craft of barrel artistry as she navigates the complex role of managing the prestige barrel program for US whiskies at Pernod Ricard.

In the enchanting world of premium spirits, Cat Salter orchestrates the alchemy from barrel to shelf. As a driving force behind Prestige Barrel Programs for US whiskies at Pernod Ricard, she deftly combines a decade of marketing prowess with a passion for creating and enhancing brand stories. Let’s unravel the layers of Cat's journey, exploring the artistry behind barrel programs and the unique touch she brings to the craft.

Cat, your role as Manager of Barrel Programs for US whiskies at Pernod Ricard involves 360-degree oversight of the single barrel process. Can you walk us through a typical day in this journey from barrel to shelf?

There’s really no such thing as “typical”, but every day we strive to provide best-in-class selections, production times, and quick accurate delivery.  We start with tasting our customers on unique barrel samples pulled specifically for their tasting.  Our teams lead tastings either live on-site at the distilleries or in the convenience of the customers’ account.  Once a selection is made, we work to confirm all details including the personalization to be applied to each bottle.  From there our production teams go to work on dumpling, bottling, and labeling the liquid from the selected barrel so they can pass it off to our logistics partners.  Delivery is scheduled and single barrel selection orders leave our care and head to our distributors before they land on-shelf at the designated retailer.  Every day is full of care and attention to detail to ensure that these special products are completed to the highest standards before they reach our customers and in turn our consumers. 

Can you share a defining moment where a particular barrel's story resonated exceptionally well in the market?

I love that you used the word “story”!  Every barrel is unique and tells its own story of maturation, art, and science and every selection is unique creating a story for the customer who selects.  I have personally had the pleasure of helping customers select barrels for everything from store anniversaries to weddings, to holiday gifts and each selection is a memory and story not only for the customer, but for me too and I love making those memories!  I recall that I once hosted a selection for a retailer who invited a bourbon club to participate in the selection.  We had so much conversation and spirited debate over the barrels we tasted we ended up spending several hours together to find the perfect fit for this customer.  Once the selection was scheduled to land at the retailer they ended up with a line out the door of not only the bourbon club members but all the people the club had relayed their selection story to…everyone wanted a bottle!  One of my favorite memories is selecting a barrel with a retailer to commemorate the owner’s retirement.  We really found a unicorn barrel that day and I still receive a holiday card from the store every year thanking me for contributing to that memory.

In your tenure at Pernod Ricard, you've worked on program development and execution. What key takeaways can you give us about creating effective and scalable programs that resonate with diverse audiences?

Keep it simple.  Understand your data.  Utilize your insights.  Having worked in the field with our distributor partners in different roles in the past has helped me recognize that creativity, practicality, and timing matter.  Ideas can look great on paper, but it is important to understand how they will work, what elements and effort are needed, what can be customized to markets, and when programs should deploy.  My goal is to build something easily executable, interesting, and scalable based on market, funding, and audience at a time that makes sense in the shopper journey and for the retailers’ calendar.  A program with a clear goal and a tiered approach to tools and budget with a customizable element helps drive scalability.

As the primary point of contact with Commercial Sales and cross-functional business units, how do you maintain seamless collaboration and communication across different facets of the organization?

Communication is key with these programs.  Ensuring information is shared in a consistent way to all key stakeholders helps keep everyone in the loop and connected.  Keeping updated documents in centralized locations, crafting informative emails with key items highlighted, and connecting live via regularly scheduled calls allow all parties to remain informed, updated, and engaged.  Training tools both live and digital allow us to easily onboard new team members and refresh all teams as needed.  Having a structure in place with clearly outlined responsibilities keeps us organized and accountable.  Technology has helped streamline collaboration, but live communication allows us to flag any potential issues and brainstorm continuous optimization of programs and systems. 

Your responsibilities extend to liaising with brand companies on various aspects of ready-to-execute programs. What's the secret sauce to fostering successful partnerships, both locally and nationally?

Balancing brand objectives and commercial needs is key.  Understanding the brand's goals and what the national commercial team and local marketing teams need to accomplish is imperative to a successful partnership.  Having localized conversations to understand the nuances of a specific market or customer helps foster a problem-solving attitude and true partnership in execution.  When we work toward a common goal and take the time to understand the unique challenges or opportunities faced by our teams, we better equip ourselves to win and grow. 

Managing the build and maintenance of the Single Barrel Portal is no small feat. How do you leverage technology to streamline processes and enhance the program's efficiency?

The Single Barrel Portal is an exciting tool unique to Pernod Ricard that allows us to digitize our enterprise, streamline processes, gather and analyze data, and support cross-functional teams with the most up-to-date information on demand and all in one place.  The introduction of this tool has allowed us to be more insights-driven, analytical in our approach to production, organized in order collection, and quicker to react to any potential slowdowns in the process.  The management of these programs is very detail-oriented and specific to each order, so alleviating the need for manual tracking, multiple documents, and different processes has allowed us to work smarter, faster, and more efficiently from commercial sales to supply & operations.  Overall technology has enhanced our ability to learn, align, react, and pivot as needed to ensure deliverables are met and customer satisfaction is achieved.

How do data and insights shape your decision-making process within the realm of barrel programs?

Data and insights are so valuable across all aspects of the spirits industry and for barrel selection programs specifically this information helps inform offerings, packaging, point of sale, and availability to a certain degree.  Understanding who our customers and consumers are, where they are, how they shop, and what they want all inform our program offerings, the details of how the programs work, and how selections ultimately show up on shelves or display in the retailer for consumer purchase.  Both the customer selection journey and consumer shopper journey work together in driving the success of selection programs and without data and insights to guide and inform us we may miss some key elements to success.

How do you strike a balance between adherence to regulations and driving innovation within the barrel space?

That’s a great question!  Compliance is such an integral part of success with these programs but is often the last thing that is considered.  I have a strong partnership with our legal and compliance teams that has allowed us to build a foundation for all programs, quickly react to questions, and be proactive in how changing regulations may impact programs.  Guidelines for barrel programs vary market by market so understanding the overall definition of what a single barrel selection program actually is, is the first step to understanding what we can offer.  Overall compliance definitions help inform liquid proposition and in partnership with our distillery and brands teams, we look at how we can innovate within those guidelines from liquid to packaging.  With our commercial and marketing teams we can collaborate on creativity execution.  We determine what is in the best overall interest of the program as a whole and what nuances may come into play in certain markets.  A strong understanding of regulations and a good working relationship with our compliance team allows for creativity without compromising integrity. 

Venturing beyond the familiar, you explore opportunities in new spirit categories. What criteria guide you in determining which ventures align seamlessly with the Pernod Ricard ethos and barrel space? What are some new and innovative programs you are currently working on?

It is exciting to launch a new single barrel selection program, but it is important to make sure it makes sense.  I look at things like the overall proposition, liquid inventory, COGs, production capacity, health of core brand sales, margins, and competitor offerings just to name a few things.  It is very important to have an aligned strategy across the sales and marketing teams for these special offerings and develop the necessary tools, training, and internal infrastructure to ensure success across all stakeholders and cross-functional teams from tasting to completed order shipping.  As for what’s next…you’ll have to wait and see!

Pernod Ricard is a global leader in premium spirits. How does the company's international footprint influence your approach to developing and executing barrel programs in the US market?

We are fortunate to have a robust and well-rounded portfolio of spirits at Pernod Ricard.  Understanding what our global brand and distillery partners are doing and what their capabilities are is key to understanding opportunities for growth and innovation.  In addition to the possibility of liquid expansion, we must remember that international markets operate much differently than the US three-tier system and we must consider route to market, import, customer base, and contributive margin when thinking about developing US-based programs with our international brands.  We are currently enjoying expanded opportunities outside of American whiskey with one of our tequila brands operating in the single barrel selection space with new programs being considered and discussed.

With a decade of progressive experience, you've undoubtedly witnessed shifts in consumer preferences. How do you stay ahead of trends and ensure that barrel programs remain aligned with evolving tastes? What are some recent trends that have influenced your approach?

Both the customer and consumer are becoming more educated in the spirits space every day.  They are asking questions about grain, distillation, aging, and the origin of liquid regardless of the spirit type.  It’s important to spend time in accounts and listen to what’s being asked and said.  It’s important to visit our competitors and look at how they are responding to demand.  And of course, we work closely with our insights teams to forecast what might be “next”.  We are still enjoying the “bourbon boom” and are always evaluating how important various liquid and program attributes are to customers and consumers so we can highlight product specifics, reimagine offerings, and keep our programs top of mind and competitive.  And, as we watch the premium tequila space grow and evolve, we consider where selection programs fit into this landscape and our current portfolio of selection programs.

Looking ahead, what excites you the most about the future of barrel programs, and how do you envision continuing to make a lasting impact on both Pernod Ricard and customer success?

There is so much to look forward to!  The spirits landscape is always evolving and our teams are always innovating.  I am looking forward to continuing to grow our team, optimize our processes, and collaborate with Liz, Andy, and Cameron on our various distillery teams to set strategy, define programs, and provide creative assets to support our programs.  One of my industry colleagues said it best I think when he describes us as “stewards of the liquid”.  I believe we really are stewards who tend to the liquid itself and the experience around it.



Cat Salter's journey through the world of barrel programs at Pernod Ricard offers readers a glimpse into the delicate balance between innovation and tradition, strategy and storytelling. As we raise our metaphorical glasses to the future, Cat's passion and vision promise to continue enriching the world of premium spirits, leaving an indelible mark on the tasteful tapestry of spirits at Pernod Ricard.

In conversation with Malvika Patel (), Editor and VP, Beverage Trade Network

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