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Interview: Belvedere President And CEO Rodney Williams

May 30, 2018

After expanding by about 100,000 cases in the U.S. from 2010-2016, Moët Hennessy’s Belvedere vodka brand (around $30 a 750-ml.) slipped 10% last year to roughly 450,000 cases, according to Impact Databank.In an effort to appeal to millennial drinkers and return to growth, Belvedere is launching a new higher-end Single Estate Rye series of vodkas ($45) and recently introduced a Ginger Zest offering to its flavor stable. The brand has also partnered with singer-songwriter Janelle Monáe on a new multi-year campaign. SND senior editor Christina Jelski spoke recently with Belvedere president and CEO Rodney Williams to discuss the vodka category’s competitive climate, millennial consumer trends, and the brand’s innovation strategy.

SND: How are conditions currently within Belvedere’s competitive set in the U.S.?

Williams: The category is indeed competitive, but we also think it’s exciting at the same time. Younger millennial consumers are drinking less, but they’re drinking better. That plays well for an upscale proposition like Belvedere, because these younger consumers are interested in quality, provenance, and brands with a substantial backstory. Plus, the fact that we’re all natural, non-GMO, and essentially made with just rye and water, with no additives or sugars, is on-trend. Vodka has long served as an entry point for the younger set, and our ability to engage them in a more elevated experience with Belvedere is a big opportunity.

SND: What are your hopes for the new Belvedere Single Estate Rye series? Can we expect more new product development in the near future?

Williams: We’ve just begun to tell the story of rye, and we’re working to highlight that flavor profile. Our new Single Estate series represents the next phase of our quest to show that there’s dimension, discernment, and extraordinary quality in vodka. It also reflects our commitment to exceed expectations, both in the use of superior Dankowskie Diamond Rye and our ability to draw out nuanced flavors. We’re also working on a limited edition offering that we’ll announce in the third quarter. We’re continuing to explore all opportunities. One of the beautiful things about vodka is that it’s the most consumed category, at about 33% of all spirits consumption in the U.S. Because of its versatility and universality, we have a great stage on which to innovate.

SND: How is Belvedere’s flavor portfolio faring?

Williams: The bulk of our business is unflavored, and we’ve been very restrained in terms of the number of macerated executions we’ve released (the flavor lineup includes Peach Nectar, Wild Berry, Mango Passion, Pink Grapefruit, Citrus, and Lemon Tea). We just recently launched Ginger Zest, which is 100% fruit with no additives and is made with real ginger and real lemon zest. It’s been very warmly received, in part because there’s been a significant evolution and sophistication of the consumer palate, especially among younger consumers, and Ginger Zest fits into that.

SND: How does the Janelle Monáe partnership fit into the brand platform?

Williams: Janelle Monáe speaks to the young millennial consumer. They have a very expansive sense of culture and tend to draw influences from many different sources, and Janelle operates on that level as well. She’s very committed to uncovering the voices of the next generation, and we think that fits well with what we’ve been trying to do with Belvedere.

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