Wild Geese uses third-party supply to make its Irish whiskey brands
The owners of Irish whiskey company The Wild Geese are seeking damages from Pernod Ricard‘s Irish Distillers division for allegedly refusing to supply it with stock.
In a legal action lodged yesterday in Dublin’s High Court, Protégé International and Avalon International claim that Irish Distillers broke EU competition laws when it turned down a request from Wild Geese for liquid from Pernod’s Midleton Distillery. They claim the refusal came despite Irish Distillers continuing to supply other independent Irish whiskey brands.
Andre Levy, CEO of Protégé, said: “Irish Distillers has abused its dominant position in the Irish whiskey market. We have made multiple requests over the years to Irish Distillers for the supply of mature and immature Irish Whiskey, which have been refused by Irish Distillers without objective justification.”
A Pernod spokesperson told just-drinks Wild Geese’s complaints have already been adjudicated upon twice over the past decade by the European Commission. “In both instances, [they] were ruled in Irish Distillers’ favour. At various stages, Irish Distillers has in good faith proposed to Protégé International supply options that it has refused.”
Protégé said it started negotiations with Irish Distillers in 2001 and was offered liquid on the proviso that Wild Geese was not sold in the same markets as Pernod’s Jameson brand, which is made at Midleton. Protégé said it refused the proposal “as it made no commercial sense”. Jameson is the world’s biggest-selling Irish whiskey and dominates some markets including the US.
Protégé claims Irish Distillers then launched legal proceedings in 24 countries against the Wild Geese brand, stating that it could be confused with the then-Pernod-owned Wild Turkey Bourbon. According to Protégé, the litigation was unsuccessful and only one claim was partially upheld in the US.
In a statement, Irish Distillers denied it was seeking to hold back smaller Irish whiskey producers, adding that it regularly invites new entrants to Midleton to advise on technical issues.
“A strong Irish whiskey category is a welcome and positive development for the overall industry as it will lead to more choice for consumers and help to grow the category.,£ the Pernod unit said. “At the heart of everything that Irish Distillers does is a desire to see Irish whiskey grow on the global stage.”
Speaking to just-drinks today, Protégé CEO Levy said that Irish Distillers’ actions are “a continuing attempt to keep Wild Geese out of the marketplace because it is potentially such a strong contender to Jameson”.
Levy continued: “It is a fully-formed brand, the type of brand that a large company with a powerful distribution network could do a lot with.”
Levy also warned that Irish Distillers’ hold on the supply of Irish whiskey through its control of the Midleton plant, which is one of the few sources of third-party spirit in Ireland, will have a harmful effect on the industry. He said most of the numerous small distilleries that have opened in Ireland over the past few years are “tourist attractions masquerading as a distiller” and will soon start dying out.
“Not a single one of them will be able to make any headway because they only make small batch whiskey and because aged stock is running out. This plethora of brands that you saw for a brief period of time is just going to disappear.”
Wild Geese does not own its own distillery and sources third-party liquid to supply its brands.