Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Builders are the cornerstone of recovery, says Diageo chief

The downturn in the construction sector has impacted on Northern Ireland's drink industry, the new boss of Diageo Northern Ireland has revealed.

Michael McCann, who has taken over the local reins of the global drink giant, said: "The one big sector that impacts on the consumption of alcohol is the construction industry.

"We do notice that those guys do not have the disposable income now. That is the one sector that if we could get sorted out would help not just our industry but the economy in general."

Despite the economic climate, 47-year-old Mr McCann, who took over from Andrew Cowen, has no concerns about being at the helm of Diageo.

He explained: "I have worked for Guinness/Diageo for 22 years so I know the market very well. I was very clear about the challenges I was taking on but I am confident because we have the brands and the people to help deliver against those challenges."

Next month Diageo, which is behind local brands including Bushmills and Harp as well as international ones such as Smirnoff and Baileys, will reveal its annual results.

It has been a tough year for the industry with many pubs forced to close their doors and Diageo making staff in Northern Ireland redundant.

However, not only have Diageo's brands been holding their own, in particular Harp and Bushmills, but its share price has rallied back to in excess of £10.

Mr McCann said: "My plan is to deliver against the commercial objectives that we have set for Diageo here - that is obviously meeting our brand objectives and our financial objectives. In the longer term, the plan is to sustain the industry and the marketplace by working to support our customers."

Innovation has been a key driver for Diageo and that remains a key part of its growth strategy. It has also tapped into new markets and expanded in existing export markets. But Mr McCann concedes that confidence has not yet returned to the economy. "The same challenges are out there in terms of disposal income; consumers just don't have the money."

He said one of the big challenges for pubs at the minute is managing their cash flow.

"We are working with the Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade as to how we can preserve and sustain the pub long term.

"It's about recognising the need for change - food is a big driver and pubs need to have that as part of their offering. Pubs also need to be a comfortable environment for women," he added.

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