Jameson and Casamigos Should Be Neck and Neck at the Bar

Pernod Ricard

PRNDY -0.60%

is getting a slightly weaker cocktail from a better mix than its big competitor


DEO -1.17%

The French maker of Jameson whiskey released record full-year results on Thursday. Sales increased 17% in the year through June, even though duty-free alcohol purchases in airports haven’t recovered to 2019 levels and some Chinese cities spent time back under Covid-19 lockdowns. The company’s operating margin increased to 28.3%. So far, drinkers are swallowing the price increases needed to offset inflation in Pernod’s own costs. 

This still wasn’t as good as the performance at Diageo. The maker of Guinness and Casamigos tequila increased sales 21% over the same period of time and grew its margin to 31%.

Both companies are in a booming industry. Spirits overtook beer as the world’s largest alcohol category by value last year. Distillers are taking market share from big brewers in mature countries such as the U.S., while also making gains as drinkers trade up to more expensive alcohol. Premium liquor brands grew 8.1% a year between 2010 and 2021, while super premium brands increased by 14.8%.

This trend should give Pernod Ricard an advantage. Three-quarters of its sales come from these higher-end drinks, compared with 57% at Diageo. But the London-based company’s exposure to tequila in the U.S. helped it to outperform. Diageo grew its U.S. spirit sales by 17% in its latest full year. The French company hasn’t been as good at using data to get better returns on its marketing budget either, but said at an investor day in June that it has plans to improve.

Pernod may catch up if international travel and night venues continue to recover. Before the pandemic, around 7% of its sales came from stores in airports. Its Jameson brand is also more exposed to bars and restaurants in the U.S. than many liquors, so didn’t benefit from the at-home cocktail boom as much as, say, Cointreau—the main ingredient in the Cosmopolitan—which is owned by Milan-listed

Davide Campari-Milano.

Big distillers think that consumers will keep buying expensive alcohol as the global economy weakens. So far, Pernod hasn’t seen any sign of weaker spending. However, as real incomes are squeezed by inflation, growth is likely to slow from recent highs. Rising energy prices in Europe and the prospect of gas rationing this winter could push up costs for distillers. Passing on more pain to consumers is becoming riskier.

Pernod Ricard’s shares trade at 20 times projected earnings, making it the cheapest of Europe’s publicly traded liquor companies. Even with uncertainty about how consumers will behave over the next few months, there’s no obvious reason why it can’t level up.

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