LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Liquor producer Brown-Forman Corp. is putting a descendant of its founder in charge of its original whiskey, the latest sign that it intends to rejuvenate the long-struggling Old Forester bourbon brand.
Campbell Brown — a fifth-generation descendant of company founder George Garvin Brown — is being promoted to the new position of president of Old Forester, effective May 1, the company said Tuesday.
George Garvin Brown introduced Old Forester when starting the company in 1870, and his signature remains a staple on the brand’s bottles. Campbell Brown becomes the first Brown family member in nearly a century to be responsible for the label, the company said.
Campbell Brown, among 11 fifth-generation Brown family members currently working for the company, takes over Old Forester as sales have started climbing after years of decline. Last year, the company announced plans to build a downtown Louisville distillery to produce Old Forester.
“We want to take advantage of this momentum,” Campbell Brown said in an interview Tuesday.
The strategy includes tapping into the company’s vast distributor network to keep Old Forester sales growing, he said. The goal is achieve sales of 500,000 cases for the brand by the end of the decade, he said.
“Are we in the bars, restaurants and accounts we need to be in? We will address that first. We want to increase the brand’s visibility,” he said.
Old Forester sales slumped to 93,000 cases in 2012. Sales edged up to 97,000 cases the next year, the first sales growth since the early 1970s. In 2014, sales rose nearly 16 per cent to 112,000 cases, the company said. The brand’s biggest markets are in Kentucky and Alabama.
The brand reached its peak in 1971 and 1972, when sales reached 1 million cases each year. The decline began in 1973 and took hold for decades. But the brand survived even as the bourbon category went into decline.
“When vodka emerged on the scene in the 1970s, a lot of our most favourite bourbons in Kentucky simply disappeared,” Campbell Brown said. “This brand never disappeared. And today we’re out there selling it again, we’re developing and creating new expressions of Old Forester.”
Brown-Forman, best known for its powerhouse Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey brand, is giving new attention to Old Forester at a time when the bourbon category is thriving, with strong sales in the U.S. and overseas.
Old Forester is predominantly a domestic brand, though the company will look for opportunities to introduce the bourbon overseas, Campbell Brown said. Old Forester was introduced in the United Kingdom last year, with encouraging results, he said.
Campbell Brown, 47, will report to Lawson Whiting, the company’s chief brands and strategy officer. Brown most recently managed Brown-Forman’s wine and spirits portfolio in Canada and U.S. Midwest markets.
“Campbell is very well suited to lead this venerable brand to national and global growth,” Whiting said.
The company’s other brands include Southern Comfort, Finlandia, el Jimador and Herradura.