This past July, Jeremy Shepherd stepped into the role of senior vice president/president USA & Canada at Brown-Forman Corp. Shepherd, who started at Brown Forman in 2005 as commercial manager for Canada, replaces John Hayes, who retired in August after 25 years with the beverage alcohol giant.
Brown-Forman, founded in 1870, includes such brands as Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Herradura and Korbel, to name just a few. Shepherd most recently served as vice president, general manager, for the U.K. and Ireland since 2018.
It was a great experience to be based in London during that time, he says: “The exposures to different ways of doing business” give him a unique perspective at Brown–Forman.
What’s more, “the industry’s performance during Covid taught me how resilient the beverage alcohol business is,” Shepherd notes. “With the right people and culture, you can get through anything.”
The pandemic brought shifts in consumer behavior as more people mixed drinks at home and opted for premium spirits, he says. This was good for Chambord, the company’s black raspberry liqueur. “During Covid times, we saw a real resurgence in that brand,” Shepherd says. “The return to on-premise is also good for Chambord.”
But Brown–Forman’s core business is American whiskeys and bourbon, and it’s been able to capitalize on the recent consumer interest in these spirits with new innovations. For instance, the company in May introduced two Bottled-in-Bond whiskeys: Jack Daniel’s Bonded Tennessee Whiskey and Jack Daniel’s Triple Mash Blended Straight Whiskey.
Shepherd is also excited about tequila and the growth of super-premium expressions, as well as gin. The company, which bought Fords gin in 2019, announced on Sept. 6 that it was acquiring Gin Mare, a Mediterranean-style gin.
Why the investment in gin? “Coming from Europe, I saw how popular gin is,” Shepherd says. “Gin is relatively untapped in the U.S. and Gin Mare has a great price point, great presence.”
Brown–Forman is also betting on RTDs: The company in July announced a partnership with The Coca-Cola Company to create a Jack & Coke ready-to-drink cocktail. “Only 5% of consumers that drink RTDs drink Jack Daniel’s,” says Shepherd. He believes that the Jack & Coke RTD, scheduled to launch in March 2023, will attract a whole new audience.
Other corporate priorities are sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Brown–Forman earlier this year created a new position of senior vice president and chief sustainability officer and director of ESG (environmental, social and governance), assumed by its former chief production and sustainability officer Alex Alvarez. The company, which in June named Crystal Peterson its new chief diversity officer, has quantifiable objectives in the DEI space, Shepherd says.
Shepherd’s first order of business is re-engaging with Brown–Forman’s unique work force now that travel has opened up, and continuing the work that Hayes did in building the company’s brands and people. “John was a legend at Brown-Forman,” he notes. “I have big shoes to fill.”