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Interview, Part 2: Chris Fehrnstrom, CMO, Constellation Wine & Spirits

July 18, 2014

In Part 2 of this exclusive SND interview, Chris Fehrnstrom, chief marketing officer for Constellation Brands’ spirits and wine division, discusses how the whisk(e)y boom is impacting the company, Constellation’s efforts to reach female wine consumers and its international ambitions.

SND: You’re specifically targeting female consumers far more than in the past. How are those efforts going?

Fehrnstrom: That’s been an area of focus for us for the past year and a half—one where we’re also emphasizing innovation. We recently launched a new brand called Rosatello—a low-alcohol, sweet frizzante-style wine imported from Italy that’s really targeted at female consumers ages 21-45, primarily in the Hispanic demographic, and we have early indications that this is going to be a big hit for us. But one of the learnings we’ve had is that there are truly female-focused products that are lifestyle brands and there are other propositions that are much more gender-neutral, and are much more what we’d call multi-generational. So instead of just focusing on millennial consumers, for instance, it’s how do we go after a range where consumers might be slightly younger, but much more differentiated in terms of ethnic background.

SND: While innovation has been key to your wine strategy, are you also focusing on new products on the spirits side?

Fehrnstrom: As you know, brown spirits are growing significantly, and we’ve participated in that with Black Velvet, especially through our line extensions—Cinnamon Rush and Toasted Caramel. I think there remains a lot of headroom for flavors in brown spirits. Additionally, we just launched an extension to Paul Masson with Peach, and that’s doing extremely well. On the vodka side, there are a couple of brands that may have overproliferated on the flavor side, but we’ve taken a different approach with Svedka, whose strength has always been the core 80-proof business. We think there’s a lot of room for growth on the flavored end for Svedka, but we also believe that it’s essential that we lead with flavors instead of following. Right now, for example, our Mango Pineapple extension is just getting into market. It’s a flavor that hasn’t been seen before in the marketplace, so it was another of those white spaces we addressed.

SND: How is your business faring outside the U.S.?

Fehrnstrom: We’re the number-one wine company in Canada, and while we’re formidable in all segments there, the import segment is particularly strong for us. Robert Mondavi, Kim Crawford and Ruffino have been growing by double digits, and we have an opportunity to continue to drive share. The other area that we’re aggressively moving into is China. China is the number-five wine market overall today, at around 200 million cases. We see that doubling over next five years. In March, we signed a deal with a local company called Vats Liquor that allows us to leverage their expertise in distribution and sales in China with ours in brand-building, and together, our aim is to build the Robert Mondavi brand into the number-one wine brand in China. We think we have the right partner, and the right plan in place to make that happen.

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