There’s no “how to survive a pandemic” class taught in business school, at least there weren’t any as 2020 dawned. As the spirits industry looks ahead to the post-lockdown era, industry leaders such as Belvedere’s Allison Varone are taking stock about the biggest lessons from the pandemic.
Varone, vice president for emerging brands at Moët Hennessy, was, like many in her field, poised to kick off what promised to be a busy spring back in early 2020. “For Belvedere, we were about to launch a new campaign and a very big advertising push,” Varone says. “We were getting ready for a lot of in-person events and consumer experiences and everything came to a halt.”
Varone, who oversees luxury brands Belvedere, Glenmorangie and Volcan de Mi Tierra, had no sense whether stuck-at-home consumers would want to keep paying for premium products. “We didn’t know if consumers were going to be willing to pay for luxury goods when they were stuck at home,” the veteran executive says. “One of the biggest lessons we learned in those months is that even in times of great uncertainty, consumers were turning to brands they trust, that gave them an elevated experience.”
A spike in retail sales brought with it a few surprises, including an uptick in e-commerce buys and increased demand for larger bottles. As bars have re-opened, retail sales are starting to level off, but retail remains strong, suggesting a new kind of consumer behavior. “While people are getting back to some normalcy, you’re still seeing a lot of people doing home entertainment, at-home cocktailing, tablescapes,” Varone says. “The behaviors have changed a little bit but some of it will probably stick around.”
As to what’s different in 2022 vs 2020? “Consumers are really yearning to socialize and be together,” Varone says. “What I’ve seen, through our consumer activations, is that they want these moments to be meaningful, memorable and less frivolous than they have been in the past.”
Varone is planning multiple events for the spring and summer, but notes that issues like the size of the crowd and the availability of outdoor spaces are considerations in ways they weren’t previously. “We’re still hoping evolve with the new behaviors,” Varone adds.
“In some sense, we’re back to normal but there’s also still cautiousness. We look for events that are more curated and more thoughtful. Maybe they are not as large. Those large gatherings — we’re going to veer away from a bit.”