There are no “how to survive a pandemic” courses taught in business schools, at least there were none at the dawn of 2020. As the spirits industry looks to the post era -lockdown, industry leaders such as Belvedere’s Allison Varone take stock of the pandemic’s biggest lessons.
Varone, vice president of emerging brands at Moët Hennessy, was, like many in her field, about to launch what promised to be a busy spring in early 2020. “For Belvedere, we were about to launch a new campaign and a big ad push,” Varone says. “We were gearing up for a lot of in-person events and consumer experiences and it just all stopped.”
Varone, who oversees luxury brands Belvedere, Glenmorangie and Volcan de Mi Tierra, had no idea whether consumers stuck at home would want to continue paying for premium products. “We didn’t know if consumers would be willing to pay for luxury goods when they were stuck at home,” the veteran executive said. “One of the biggest lessons we learned during those months was that even in times of great uncertainty, consumers turned to brands they trusted, which provided them with an elevated experience.”
A surge in retail sales brought a few surprises, including an increase in online shopping and increased demand for larger bottles. With bars reopening, retail sales are beginning to stabilize, but retail sales remain strong, suggesting a new type of consumer behavior. “As people return to some normality, you still see a lot of people doing home entertainment, home cocktails, tablescapes,” says Varone. “Behaviours have changed a bit, but some of them will probably stay.”
What is different between 2022 and 2020? “Consumers really crave to socialize and be together,” says Varone. “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 several events for the spring and summer, but notes that issues such as crowd size and outdoor space availability are considerations in a way that they weren’t before. “We always hope to evolve with the new behaviors,” adds Varone.
“In a certain sense, we are back to normal, but there is also still caution. We are looking for more organized and thoughtful events. Maybe they’re not that big. These big gatherings – we’re going to digress a bit.