‘Belvedere is a brand distilled with purpose’

K Giriprakash Bengaluru | Updated on July 22, 2021

‘Made With Nature’ is more than a campaign for us, it’s a philosophy, says Rodney Williams, president and CEO of Belvedere Vodka


Rodney Williams, president and CEO of Belvedere Vodka — a premium spirit that is also part of the global luxury behemoth LVMH (Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE)- undeterred by the pandemic, has pushed changes, launched new campaigns to market the iconic brand. In an interview with BusinessLine, Williams and Sophia Sinha, Head of Marketing Moët Hennessy India, talk about the strategy put in place to market the spirits’ brand during the current situation arising out of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, Belvedere had launched their new platform, Made with Nature. Has the pandemic pushed this campaign back? In one of the recent interviews, you had talked about how brands should reconsider their purpose. How should brands plan to do that?

Williams: We launched Made With Nature during the pandemic, and it resonated with consumers because people are now interested in knowing more about what is behind the label. They are getting a complete understanding of what we do and who we are. The only thing we had to hold back on was activating on-premise and hosting in-person events. Belvedere is a vodka made of Polish Rye, purified water, and distilled by fire – no additives. We always like to say that Belvedere is a brand distilled with purpose, and Made With Nature is more than a campaign for us, it’s a philosophy. It shows consumers who we are at the core and what our values are. It also illustrates how we operate from an environmental standpoint of respecting and nourishing the lands we share.

Sophia Sinha, Head of Marketing, Moët Hennessy India


How is the vodka market, especially the premium variety growing in India

Sinha: While the vodka industry in India de-grew in 2020, the premium segment performed better, comparatively. Innovation and craftsmanship attract the younger generation, especially women, who are currently driving demand for vodka in India. When the pandemic hit India in 2020, we saw a nationwide lockdown, especially in the alcohol industry, wherein the sales went dry for three months, impacting business across companies. However, it also gave birth to an entirely new channel of at-home consumption, which we now term as the ‘home premise’. Consumers could no longer step out to meet friends over drinks and experience brands in restaurants anymore, which gave companies something to think about and create entire new strategies to target consumers and new consumption occasions within the comfort and safety of their homes. The travel ban also elevated disposable incomes, which led to consumers “premiumising”. This gave rise to the demand for premium products, including vodkas, which also meant that not being able to go out and spend money or travel and purchase duty-free alcohol from the airport duty-free, left target consumers with a larger disposable income in hand to be able to upgrade on the quality of alcohol they were drinking as opposed to pre-pandemic.

The Belvedere vodka is priced quite high in India. This is obviously because of the high duty. Are you in talks with the Indian government to reduce the duty just as the Scotch Whisky Association wants them to do for imported whisky?

Sinha: All imported alcohol in India, is indeed highly-priced, factoring in the customs duty and the taxes that each state excise imposes. Currently, there are no talks on for Vodka that we are participating in; however, if there were to be any movement, we would consider being part of it with other industry players.

How tough is the competition for premium drinks in India?

Sinha: India is one of the world’s largest alcohol markets, mainly driven by local products that we term IMFL. However, the potential lies amongst the younger consumers above LDA. With rising disposable income, changes in societal norms and exposure to global trends, the market will grow and diversify. There has also been a distinct shift in the drinking culture toward an emphasis on savouring a drink, experimentation with mixology, premixes and other innovations that premium brands are now too focusing on more than ever before. Having competition is great. It continues to challenge companies and consumers to think outside the box, experiment with something that has never been done before, and innovate with flavours, ingredients, etc .which is now helping companies target different audiences and recruit consumers with varied tastes and preferences. The more the competition only means, the larger the pie, which also gives one the confidence that the industry continues to evolve along with consumers who continue to demand these products.

Has the pandemic impacted super-premium drinks like vodka?

Williams: Belvedere has been impacted by the closing of the on-trade, meaning many restaurants, bars, and nightlife venues have closed during the pandemic. On the other hand, home consumption and online sales have increased, where the focus has been. Super-premium spirits have held steady, with consumers drinking more at home and getting comfortable with creating cocktails and exploring new spirits while homebound. Our Made With Nature campaign platform has been successful because it aligns with what consumers want, an authentic, naturally-made product with character and taste.

Can you share some of the key sustainability practices followed by Belvedere Vodka.

Williams: Our sustainability commitment is rooted in nourishing the lands we share by addressing key environmental topics, preserving the terroir the rye comes from, and ensuring environmentally responsible business practices, and innovative green initiatives. Our sustainability program is focused on many key areas, but to mention a few significant targets, one would be converting to organic farming. From 2020 we started to source organic ingredients for all future innovations. All new products will reflect this new standard starting this year. Belvedere’s distillery has begun rigorously working on the transition to organic farming, to only produce organic certified products by 2025. Another focus is to become energy carbon neutral and we are doing this with our new biomass capture facility that will start producing 100 per cent renewable energy, subsequently reducing energy-related CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by the end of this year, and then to become fully energy carbon neutral by early 2022. Utilizing sustainable packaging solutions is another key focus where we’ve ceased the use of plastic straws and have begun eliminating plastic bags from our shipping.

Published on July 22, 2021

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