Insider Insight into the SA Liquor Industry: Grant McDonald Interview

Mudl Magazine Cover - Interview - Bar Accessories
Mudl Magazine Cover - Interview - Bar Accessories
Mudl Magazine Cover - Interview - Bar Accessories
Mudl Magazine Cover - Interview - Bar Accessories

In an effort to better understand the South African liquor Iandscape, we sat down with Grant McDonald from MUDL (the first liquor and lifestyle magazine in South Africa) to hear what he had to say:

1. Tell us a little about MUDL?

Grant: “MUDL was named after the act of grinding cocktail ingredients to release flavour. MUDL is a plastic or wooden stick used to grind up the elements, an instrument very similar to a pestle and mortar. MUDL magazine first started as a cocktail publication and now covers all liquor categories, including wine and beer. When you “MUDL” something you release the flavour. The magazine is a release, which contains the essence of the industry.”

2. When did the first issue go out?

Grant: “In early 2012 we released the first issue which was all about vodka. Each issue then had a category focus but the later ones are much more broad. The magazine is distributed free to food and beverage managers, key bartenders, restaurateurs, bar managers and other people in the industry. “

3. What was the intention behind it?

Grant: “To begin with it started off with a trade focus but after a while it evolved to incorporate more consumers as that is what the industry demanded. Brands in South Africa require more of a pull strategy; they want to get consumers interested in the brand first and then into venues. The brand guys want to speak directly to consumers. In addition the magazine contains technical and fun articles, menus, hot topics and trends in the industry.”

4. Where did the idea first originate?

Grant: “We had been watching what was happening overseas with magazines like Class in London and Mixology in Europe. The publications were indicative of the huge respect there was for the industry overseas. We wished the same for South Africa and we wanted people to drink better and not more. We also wanted skilled cocktail bartenders and bar owners to get the respect they deserve, it was time to educate people.”

5. What is the current state of the South African Liquor Industry and its relationship with bars and restaurants?

Grant: “It is developing rapidly. We are traditionally a beer, wine, and brandy ‘n Coke drinking nation essentially, typically reserving the bulk of our consumption for the weekend. However, as more exciting international brands have entered the market over the last 20 years, the public is becoming more curious and discerning. We take a lot of cues and direction from the drinking trends in Europe and the United States, although our weak currency makes well-made cocktails too expensive for many South Africans. R90 for a cocktail doesn’t compare all that favourably to a R35 beer, whereas overseas the difference between a $10 cocktail and a $7 lager is negligible.”

6. How do you think MUDL benefits the industry?

Grant: “It is twofold. Firstly it provides a “soapbox” for the industry from which to communicate, both internally and with consumers. It is a voice. Secondly it makes info on high-end brands more accessible and encourages respect for those working within the industry. The perception is that most bar jobs are transitory – this is not right.”

7. How can bars save money through not wasting drinks?

Grant: “A problem that a lot of South Africa bars have is a very high staff turnover. This is a vicious circle because the quicker staff turn the less likely a bar owner is to train his staff. Insufficiently trained bartenders aren’t all that adept in free-pouring accurately so there is a lot of wastage. Wastage is very dangerous to any bar or restaurant. The correct use of spirit measures and bar accessories is imperative to minimizing wastage. Angus Winchester, the Global Brand Ambassador for Tanqueray Gin and the owner of Alconomics, suggests that it is important to include your bartenders in the running of the business, making them aware of how important it is not to waste. They then feel valued and want to work with you to make your business a success. Generally bartenders believe that they are there ultimately to make money for the business by making customers happy and making people come back; managing wastage is just as important.”

8. Do you think that online liquor stores in South Africa is a viable new market?

Grant: “Most definitely. South Africa as a whole is getting used to e-commerce. Older generations are still wary about using credit cards online but it is rapidly becoming more and more popular. MUDL also offers a fantastic online bottle store where you can buy a wide selection of drinks at low prices and have them delivered direct to your door.”

9. What is your view on the current cocktail industry in South Africa?

Grant: “ It is small and massively passionate. There is a group of highly respected bartenders in South Africa that is driving the industry forward. There are some fantastic cocktail programmes and the consistency and quality of drinks is definitely getting better. What is great to see is that experienced cocktail bartenders are keen to impart knowledge on youngsters eager to learn. There is a strong almost-fraternal bond between serious bartenders in South Africa, and indeed around the world, and this can only be good for the future of cocktails in South Africa.”

10.What do you hope to achieve with the upcoming MUDL event in Cape Town?

Grant “Africa has never had a fully comprehensive bar show that showcases liquor across the board. It has only had  category-specific festivals. In recent years South Africans no longer drink by category. Today people drink by aspiration or occasion. Our show is for the trade and the consumer, aiming to give brands the opportunity to steal share of throat from other categories. We are cross-pollinating categories to educate the consumer by exposing them to brands they might not actively seek out.  For example, I know people who would never attend a rum exhibition as they have preconceived ideas about the spirit, but they will visit MUDL Live for the wine or beer and might come across a rum that blows their minds. This is valuable to brand managers looking to grow their customer base rather than just cannibalise within their category, as well as to consumers genuinely interested in broadening their horizons.”