Maurice Pratt: It's a long way to Tipperary for the man behind the success of Magners

A day in the life: Maurice Pratt, chief executive of the Irish cider maker C&C, works on his master plan for world domination on the slow road down to Clonmel. Susie Mesure catches up with him
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The Independent Online


There's a certain sense of repetition in the Pratt household of a morning. Maurice, the 51-year-old Irishman who single-handedly sparked the UK's craze for cider, has five sons. "I get up, I wake up three of my children, I shower. I wake the same three children again," says the boss of C&C, the cider-to-Irish whiskey drinks group. After a light breakfast of juice and tea, "if all three haven't materialised I go back up and make a bit of noise".

All those years of early hullaballo came in handy last summer when Mr Pratt needed to make noise of a totally different kind. C&C knew it would need to shout very loud to carve out a niche for its Magners cider brand in a crowded English drinks market.

In 2002, when the group's then private equity backers BC Partners first tried - and failed - to float the business, cider was still a dirty word in British drinking circles. Too many memories of first hangovers permeated the national psyche for him to stand any chance of bringing the group's flagship cider brand over here. It's credit to the former Tesco executive's powers of persuasion, or his Irish gift of the gab at any rate, that five years later Magners has proved such a hit.

"Cider has always had a natural market share in the UK, which it never had in Ireland. That made it attractive because we felt we could reposition it as a premium, over ice, all-year-round drink."

And with the help of a barrage of ads depicting giant ice cubes glinting in pint glasses of Magners, that's what he did. "Back in 2002 Magners was a blue-sky opportunity. All we've done is taken a piece of the blue sky so far. Our aim this summer is to embed more strongly the strength of our position in the UK."


With the boys left finally to fend for themselves, Mr Pratt heads out. He's just got time to pop into the group's office on a Dublin industrial park before hitting the road for a long drive south to its manufacturing and bottling plant in Clonmel, Co Tipperary. Because all the group's divisions - it owns Ballygowan mineral water, Tullamore Dew whiskey and the 7-Up franchise - are decentralised, there's no one big C&C hub. Instead of endless executive meetings, Mr Pratt is a conference call and Blackberry man. "My job here is less operational than any of my previous roles."

And less public too, he might add, for all that the group is now quoted. When he ran Quinnsworth, the Irish supermarket that was part of Associated British Foods until it got swallowed by Tesco in 1997, he was the face of the grocer in television ads for 12 years. The grey-haired, blue-eyed Mr Pratt became a household name, charming housewives from Dublin to Cork with his toothpaste smile. That was to prove handy in 2004, when C&C finally managed to get its flotation away, because it helped to raise awareness.


He's soon on the road again, praying for a clear run to Clonmel. "The downside of Ireland's great economic success is its infrastructure," says the ex-head of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation - its equivalent to our CBI - bemoaning the amount of traffic on the country's crowded roads. It's a three-hour trip, which gives him plenty of time to mull his plans for world cider domination. He hopes growth for C&C this summer will come not only from converting "more lapsed cider drinkers" in the UK but also from an as yet unnamed new market. A nearish continental country would be a good guess, he admits.

The true cider prizes lie farther afield, however. For some reason the drink works best when quenching Anglo-Saxon thirsts. That makes countries such as Australia, South Africa and even the US more tantalising than their European cousins. True, the French have their Normandy variant, the Spanish something similar in Galicia and the Germans a concoction from Saxony, but they're all apparently more akin to wine than our lowish-strength lager knock-off. "In Europe, no countries have the Irish/English cider tradition."


He's reached Clonmel - cider central for C&C. All of Magners (or Bulmers as it's called in Ireland) summer hopes lie within the plant's four walls. After running short of the golden brew last summer - not even Mr Pratt had anticipated what a shock success story cider would be - C&C is pouring cash into Clonmel (€200m to be precise) to expand its storage and production facilities. Part one of the two-stage plan was complete by the end of December thanks to his decision to install an Italian manufacturing company in situ to build enough new tanks to store the crushed apples from the site's 250-acre apple orchard. "We needed them to build these 70,000 gallon stainless steel tanks at a rate of 10 per week to have them ready by Christmas." Any later and the cider would not have had had long enough to mature.

"The taste of Magners is better [than rivals] because of its high fresh apple juice content and because we use a longer period of maturation. That, and our concept of using pint bottles of cider poured over ice, gave us a point of differentiation for entering the UK market."

The ice was apparently key to creating a new cult of cider that would help people bury memories of swigging lukewarm Strongbow from a two-litre plastic bottle in a field aged 14 - and more importantly, the hangovers that followed. "It's all about creating a ritual." (The use of ice as a C&C gimmick dates from the mid-1990s, when consumers started demanding ice from bar staff to cool down their drink. The marketing boys were quickly on to it and the ice stayed).

He spends the rest of the morning checking up on part two of the investment plan: two new bottling lines that need to be up and running by May. He is confident that with this extra capacity C&C will be able to avoid the supply issues that took the shine off an otherwise remarkable summer. From a standing start two years ago, Magners has nearly 2 per cent of the so-called long alcoholic drinks market in the UK. It was only last summer that the brand was rolled out beyond London. It is now available in 60 per cent of the UK but that figure will rise this year. Eventually he hopes to match the 10.5 per cent market share of the category that Bulmers enjoys in Ireland.


Lunch is Ryvita (he's something of a loyalist, that Mr Pratt; he hasn't worked for AB Foods for a decade but he's still hooked on their products) with some Parma ham, and then it's back on the Dublin road again. From his car he can chat about some of the group's other brands with their relevant bosses. 7-Up, for instance, is flying at the moment after three rough years, thanks to the invention of 7-Up Free, which is free from added sugar. Unlike in the UK, where 7-Up has always struggled, it has a long heritage in Ireland because aeons ago doctors used to recommend it for its health-giving qualities, unbelievably enough. "I used to boil 7-Up, put it in the fridge, and give it to my kids from bottles when they were sick." And that was way before he had an inkling that one day he'd be its virtual poster boy.


Something of a family man - five children leaves you no choice - Mr Pratt likes to head home in plenty of time for dinner. He eats with his wife, Pauline, and whichever sons are around. That generally means whichever ones have a rare night off training. All five are promising football and rugby players. Their grandfather on their mum's side was an Irish football international (Peter Farrell) and Mr Pratt's dad played rugby. Tonight, though, the sport of choice is football. Ireland v San Marino. Mr Pratt admits the tension gets too much when it gets to one goal apiece and he has to leave the room. Thankfully, Ireland come good in the end. Roll on Sunday's rugby game with France.

Food and drinks

Name: Maurice Pratt, chief executive, C&C

Age: 51

Career history: Headhunted from the advertising agency Des O'Meara & Associates in 1982 to join Quinnsworth and Crazy Prices, Associated British Food's Irish retail business, as marketing manager. Became managing director in 1996 and kept the post when Tesco bought he group in 1997. Joined C&C as chief executive in January 2002 to float the business. Eventually got it away on the Irish stockmarket in 2004. President of the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, 2002 to 2004.

Hobbies: Tennis, walking, golf, watching sons' rugby and football matches. ("Although now Setanta televises even the schools' games so you can support from your living room.")