Of CORRADO LARONGA
Flavia Di Giustino, Brand Manager of Moët Hennessy Italia, opens the doors of the world of luxury beverages to us and tells us about its brands, the history and strategies of the company
Flavia, before talking in detail about your role, can you tell us something about Moët Hennessy?
Very willingly. Moët Hennessy is a world leader in the luxury wine and spirits market, with coverage of over 140 countries and a brand portfolio that I would say is unparalleled: five of the most prestigious champagne brands in the world, from Moët & Chandon to Krug, without forgetting the spirits references for which I personally manage the marketing on the Italian market: Hennessy, Ardbeg, Glenmorangie and Belvedere Vodka. But that's not all: the company boasts an incredible wine portfolio, with gems that come from all over the world. I am truly proud to be part of such a reality.
What happened to the luxury beverage market with the lockdown?
The beverage market in general has completely lost one of its macro-channels: hospitality, with the closure of hotels, restaurants and cocktail bars. Luckily the large-scale retail channel resisted, but as you can imagine the damage was quite significant.
As regards luxury beverages, however, there are several considerations to make. First of all, luxury, in whatever sector it is, is something so experiential that it has always needed its own physicality in consumption. It is true that many delivery and e-commerce companies have been created, but you will agree with me in saying that a bottle of champagne consumed at home does not have the same taste of a dinner enjoyed in a starred restaurant. More or less the same can be said for a brand like Belvedere Vodka, which is not mainly consumed at home, but in cocktail bars, on the beach or during a party; this is also because it represents a status quo that disappears without an audience.
However, there are also exceptions: Cognac, for example, is a meditation distillate that is consumed at home, perhaps with friends, and therefore has not been particularly affected by the lockdown in a country like Italy where it is not considered a product of social experience.
How did Moët Hennessy react to the crisis?
The company itself reinvented itself rather quickly: several internal and external training initiatives started already on March 11th. This unexpected situation allowed us to enjoy the time, an opportunity that doesn't happen often, and we took advantage of it by training on the products, delving into the history of the brands, and their philosophy. Being part of a wonderful group, LVMH - leader in the distribution of luxury brands in many product categories such as beverage, clothing and perfumes -, we also had the opportunity to meet colleagues from different sectors to exchange our respective skills . As regards external training, we have instead created a series of in-depth webinars on our products dedicated to bartenders, sommeliers and customers.
It must also be said that you were one of the few companies to launch a new product in the midst of the crisis: Ardbeg 5, a very particular single malt whiskey
It's true: before the outbreak of the pandemic, the launch of this new product was planned, which its Brand Ambassador Andrea Bertazzo will tell you about in one of the next interviews. When everything stopped, Ardbeg thought for a long time about what to do: on the one hand the distillery wanted to be able to share an extraordinary product like the 5 year old with the public, but on the other hand it didn't want to be branded as the brand interested in profiting from every cost, even in such a period. In the end, courage prevailed – a choice that we as Moët Hennessy Italia absolutely supported – and Ardbeg 5 was launched. Within five minutes of publishing the post announcing the new release, around 200 comments rained in, one more enthusiastic than the other, and after just two weeks, the stock intended for the Italian market until December was sold out. This success demonstrated how in tune Ardbeg and Moët Hennessy are with their audience and that a new product, when it is truly extraordinary, leaves no room for discussion, if adequately communicated.
Now let's talk about you: what does it mean to be Brand Manager of four such prestigious brands?
I always feel a bit like the "black sheep" of the company because I deal with spirits for a company that has always been associated above all with champagne, even if that's not the case. Indeed, I believe that this company has shown foresight in wanting to focus on a few products in the spirits market that are real jewels. Of these, today I completely manage marketing and communication for Italy, something I was already doing in part at Pernod Ricard, a large French company oriented towards both large-scale retail trade and the premium segment. In fact, I was already in charge of the prestige portfolio at the time and the natural consequence of this path was landing at Moët Hennessy.
What does a Brand Manager do?
At Moët Hennessy the challenge is a stimulating one: I manage four number 1 products in their competitive arenas and I have to maintain the standard unchanged and, if possible, raise it a little further. Being a Brand Manager means many things, but first of all it means knowing your products perfectly. We're talking about international brands, so it's about understanding their values, their history and then knowing how to balance their global positioning with the peculiarities of the market in which they operate. I'll give you an example: in Spain there is a large consumption of orange juice in mixing, so a cocktail like the Screwdriver is one of those most associated with Belvedere Vodka. In Italy, however, a cocktail like this is considered a bit "obsolete", so to talk about Belvedere Vodka we will perhaps use a Dry Martini or a particular signature. My task is therefore to give the brand a strategic direction that is consistent with the international positioning, but suited to the local market. All this without forgetting the management of communication, strategy, co-branding collaborations and events.
Can you briefly describe your products to us?
It won't be easy to do it briefly but I'll try (laughs ed.). Belvedere Vodka is simply the #1 luxury vodka in the world, there's not much else to say. Ardbeg is a tumultuous whisky, one of the peatiest ever and is therefore aimed at great enthusiasts. Glenmorangie is a softer whisky, ideal for approaching this spirit through an extraordinary product. Hennessy on the other hand represents almost 50% of the global market share of cognac, here too there is not much else to say. With these references you can play in many areas, from mixing to verticals, from tastings to experiential journeys with other Moët Hennessy brands, whose quality can give life to truly grandiose sensorial events.