Alcohol sales have jumped up during the last two months and a number of trends became clearer: consumers are drinking more premium products and are very comfortable making home cocktails. As such, Belvedere is leaning into their Quality over Quantity approach to encourage consumers to make mindful choices when drinking. Belvedere and parent company, Moet Hennessy, are highlighting their vodka brand that lacks additives, artificial ingredients, and preservatives.
As restaurants and bars across the country begin to reopen, the discussion for many operators will be how to prioritize smaller menus, how drinking trends may be different than before COVID-19, and the best way to maximize revenue from every sale. Bar & Restaurant turned to Allison Varone, the Vice President of Belvedere Vodka for Moët Hennessy USA for insight as she is a highly experienced brand strategist with a strong background of working on lifestyle and luxury brands in the US. In her current role, Varone is responsible for driving the US business and marketing strategy and offers her strategies for operators and bar managers on what beverage menus of the future may look like.
B&R: Can you give a little background on your role with Belvedere and your focus?
Allison Varone: My name is Allison Varone, I am the Vice President of Belvedere in the US for Moet Hennessy, and I've been on the brand about seven months now, but I've been a long time in the industry working on various brands at Moet Hennessy, also some other spirits brands, big ones and small. Previous to joining the industry, I started my career in publishing and print media background, but the last back half of my career so far has been wine and spirits, which has been great. I'm responsible for managing the business in the US. Everything from the actual product to advertising, to financial responsibility as well.
B&R: The word 'pivot' maybe be overused now, but what are the ways businesses can smartly innovate during this time? What is Belvedere doing and what are you all focused on right now to just help support both the industry in terms of bars, restaurants, and bartenders with USBG?
Varone: I'll start first of all with the trade portion, and as you know we're part of DISCUS, as well as Moet Hennessy, so we're proud to be giving, that we're able to give back to the community in terms of USBG and a sizable donation as part of DISCUS and also the [National] Restaurant Association, and also doing some local efforts at the bartender USBG level.
We've been very active in that as a supplier, and in terms of Belvedere the brand, it's a very interesting time for all of us. I think that is what is giving us a bit of a leg up, and we feel confident that the brand is going to be able to come out on top and continue to be relevant and grow. We really feel that consumers today are really concerned and aware of what they're putting into their bodies, right? They want quality. They want to know the ingredients that they're drinking, that they're eating, and they want to know if products are more sustainable, and that has been a trend over the past couple of years, but now in this COVID world, we certainly think that that's going to be more prominent. And we feel that the Belvedere is going to be able to lead that because part of our DNA as a brand has always been about quality and our all-natural philosophy.
That has been true since the beginning when Belvedere started, and really the origin of Polish vodka in Poland when it was developed over 600 years ago. We really feel that our high-quality approach to cocktails specifically, is going to bode well for us when the operators start to really open up again. From a cocktail perspective, what we are providing and looking to provide to our account partners is really the best, fresh, simple approach to cocktails, leveraging the seasons, leveraging all-natural ingredients locally for the operators to have access to. We feel that consumers are going to expect brands to do that, but they're also going to probably expect their restaurants and bars, and even to some extent nightclubs, to embrace that in the new world. We really feel that we're trying to lean in more to our all-natural philosophy, and we feel that will probably bode well for us as a brand and think that it will resonate with our consumer base.
B&R: I agree, COVID really was a catalyst for a lot of trends that had already started and it put it in warp speed in terms of moving forward. Thinking about bar managers or bar owners of restaurants, bars, and nightlife venues, there is certainly a need to redevelop menus and focus on better and higher quality products. What advice would you have for someone saying, "Hey, the bar menu I used to run just isn't feasible?" For someone that needs to cut down their products to a smaller number, and needs to focus on products that sell really well that complement the trends that are continuing to be really hot right now?
Varone: I think our advice that we will give to our account owners is to really re-evaluate what products they are going to include. Obviously cash is going to be an issue for a lot of these operators, right? So going down to really what they really need, taking the high-quality products. For vodka, obviously Belvedere, we would want them to play. From a cocktail perspective, it's really going to be about simple ways for them to give their consumers what they want, and think about local ingredients, think about all-natural ingredients. We have launched a new cocktail strategy with superfoods, which we think is interesting. It's also good for coming into the spring and summer period where we have a collection of nine cocktails, like a Berry Zest, that are really driving the idea of superfoods, that can lend well to the trend of wellness.
So maybe there's a way that they can reinvent their menus to really talk about and give consumers a different approach to their go-to cocktails, within a much more elevated and interesting approach. Also, think they're going to be opening up, a lot of accounts are thinking about more outdoors, more patios, more brunch occasions, so think about how Belvedere and then this whole idea of fresh cocktails, superfood cocktails, can play a role in that new occasion that there probably have to create post-COVID.
B&R: You mentioned to-go programs, are you seeing any trends, where people can create some of these on-premise superfood cocktails, but also creating to-go packages for them to enjoy later? Has that been part of your strategy or advice at all?
Varone: Yes, that has been part of our strategy. We're seeing that across the country and we're seeing accounts that are able to do takeout are adding cocktails to their to-go programs, which is an excellent additional revenue stream for them. As for us again, we're trying to make sure that Belvedere is at the forefront of the simple cocktails. Because obviously, it's going to be more challenging to do a to-go cocktail with a very complicated cocktail. It's easier for it to be a bit simpler, so yes, that is certainly something we've seen an increase over the past couple of weeks, and we actually think that trend will likely continue. Again, it's more revenue for the account.
B&R: Any other best practices you've seen that you want to share about a certain establishment that you've been watching or working with that you think has the ability to adapt in this new abnormal?
Varone: I don't have specific examples per se, but we have seen an uptick in some of our big partners, some national accounts, some independent, that have embraced the idea of to-go cocktails and packaging them up along with food in a very creative way and promoting that. For Belvedere, we've seen accounts do a martini pairing, with some of their high-end meals. You buy it as a meal plus a Belvedere martini delivered to your door in a very elevated way, and consumers can then feel like they're having a dining experience in their home and they feel there's some normalcy in that. We've had some good success with accounts that are really partnered with us as a brand, again with our simple, all-natural, high-quality products to go along with their food menus, and we've seen some nice success there.
B&R: In a time like this, what is one feel-good story or one positive that you have seen that has been encouraging?
Varone: I think overall, the situation has brought a huge human aspect into the industry, and I think that it's a silver lining that consumers and trade come together to help each other out. There's a lot of donations happening. Obviously there's a lot of support happening. I think as a society we've come together, certainly. As an industry we've come together. And again, I think from a brand perspective, certain brands, and Belvedere's an example of that, that we can feel good that we're contributing to the trend of community, to naturalness, to local seasonal approach to enjoying our products. So I think all those things, it's important to keep in mind through these challenging times.