‘Philadelphia has always played second fiddle to New York and we kind of like it that way’

Wild Geese: Declan Duggan builds up beverage brands in the US

Declan Duggan, from Galway, is steeped in the beverage business, which has allowed him to develop an interesting and varied career in the United States. The former Diageo executive describes himself as “a serial brand builder with an equity stake”.

Using his knowledge and marketing acumen built up over 20 years in the US, Duggan has helped several non-alcoholic beverages as well as a self-service drinks dispensing venture to ramp up their sales and either attract significant investment or successful exit opportunities for their promoters.

“It involves putting the right processes in place, hiring the team, developing the culture and rolling out the venture across the country.”

In many cases the promoters will have a goal of selling once revenues reach a certain target figure, and the team works to that goal, he says.

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“If the owners have a dream of realising $500 million from a sale, for example, we know that we have to get the sales to at least $200 million as there’s generally a multiple of around 2½ times revenues.”

With an equity stake in these business, a successful exit provides a decent payout for Duggan as well as the owners.

Duggan’s latest significant pay-day involves his equity stake in Nutrabolt, where he helped establish a beverage division in 2018. Nutrabolt is an established producer of nutritional products, such as powders, pills and supplements that support sports performance, endurance and recovery. Duggan helped it move into the retail beverage market including the roll-out of an energy drink called C4.

The firm has subsequently received a significant investment from Keurig Dr Pepper Inc as part of a strategic partnership.

“We grew the C4 brand from zero at that point to the No 4 energy drink in the US,” says Duggan.

“I have just exited that business to look for the next big category and company to join and shape. There are a lot of brands out there, lots of great ideas and passion but, in many cases, no real understanding of how to commercialise the dream, which is where I come in.”

Europe tends to be way ahead of the US in terms of draught equipment, healthier trends, sugar reduction and more sustainable packaging. The beer market in general is in decline here

Although Duggan enjoys trips back to Ireland to visit his family in Galway, his newfound freedom won’t see him returning to his home country permanently. Philadelphia is very much home for Duggan and his American-born wife, Beth.

One of the few things Duggan misses about Ireland is family. He says he would “pay handsomely for Mother Duggan’s cooking”, which he and Beth enjoy on their trips to Ireland every year.

He has been in the US for more than 20 years. After college, he moved to London, where he worked in sales for three years before moving to the US in September 1995 and settling in Philadelphia, where he has remained since.

He managed bars and restaurants initially before joining Guinness Bass Import Company, where he worked for almost 10 years before leaving in 2009.

He says he enjoys the freedom of developing brands and moving on every few years to a fresh challenge. And he is adamant that he has no interest in a corporate job in his adopted home as he plans his next move. “It gets you closer to the ground game than you would be in a corporate position, and you understand the consumer and the retail markets better. It keeps you sharper and hungrier.”

Duggan is unlikely to be out of the beverage business for long and is now eyeing the non-alcoholic beer market, which he says is underdeveloped in the US. He notes the success of brands such as Heineken and Guinness in the non-alcoholic categories in Europe and sees potential for the same in the US.

The US often lags Europe in developments in the beverage market, he says. “Europe tends to be way ahead of the US in terms of draught equipment, healthier trends, sugar reduction and more sustainable packaging. The beer market in general is in decline here.”

Duggan has a keen interest in sport and follows Irish rugby and GAA on streaming services. He also cycles and plays golf to keep fit.

The couple enjoy a good lifestyle. With a population of about 1.5 million, Philadelphia is the fifth-largest city in the US. While the city went into decline in the 20th century, large urban regeneration programmes have given it a significant boost in recent decades and there is a nice vibe in the downtown area of Queen Village, where they live.

“Over the years, I have considered moving elsewhere in the US, but I have never found somewhere I would rather be. Philadelphia is a unique place with all the trappings of a significant city. It has a very vibrant arts scene and has great dining and bar options. It has always played second fiddle to New York and we kind of like it that way.”

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