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Visionary Retailer: Phil Markert Drives Transformation At Vons, Albertsons, Pavilions

November 27, 2019

For nearly four decades, Phil Markert has been a part of the Vons grocery chain fabric. He began at the entry level, bagging groceries at a Southern California-based Vons, but eventually would rise to enter the company’s executive ranks. Today Vons is under the Albertsons umbrella, following the 2015 Safeway-Albertsons merger, and Markert is now director of liquor for all Vons, Albertsons, and Pavilions locations across Southern California—a grocery empire spanning 354 stores in all, with total beverage alcohol revenues estimated at $850 million by Market Watch magazine.

Markert, who was recently named a 2019 Market Watch Leader, has fine-tuned the company’s wine and spirits program in recent years, increasing the number of stores with wine stewards, incorporating a more rigorous training curriculum for staff, and tailoring selections based on local preferences. “We’ve created a one-stop shop for food, wine, spirits, beer, home goods, and much more,” he says. “We’ve taken our selection up another level by listening to our customers and catering to each neighborhood’s needs, and we’ve dug deeper into fine spirits, taking our high-end wine approach to the spirits sphere.”

Best-selling wines company-wide currently include Justin Cabernet Sauvignon ($40 a 750-ml.), La Crema Chardonnay ($23), and Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc ($20). Canned offerings like House Wine, Wine by Joe, and Dark Horse are also driving sales. The company’s own brands are likewise aligning with national trends. Private-labels across Vons, Albertsons, and Pavilions stores are retail priced from $4 for a 375-ml. can of Outspoken rosé to $26 for a 750-ml. of Signature Reserve Series Chardonnay.

The entire spirits category is on fire, Markert notes. “Spirits are going to lead the industry over the next decade, and whisk(e)y is definitely on trend,” he says. “Tequila, particularly in this market, is also hot right now. Elsewhere, we’re seeing a movement toward low-alcohol, no-alcohol, low-carb, and low-sugar—consumers are health-conscious, and spirits are starting to play into that.” Across all stores, such labels as Ketel One Botanical Peach & Orange Blossom vodka ($29 a 750-ml.) and Prairie Organic vodka ($24) have embodied that ethos and been popular with consumers.

Markert has made the upscale Pavilions stores a special point of focus. In 2017, the company launched an upgraded “Pavilions 2.0” concept, which is gradually being implemented across the chain. The revamped Pavilions stores carry a vast selection, averaging 2,500 wine SKUs, 1,000 spirits SKUs, and 900 beer SKUs per location. Spirits offerings geared toward Pavilions stores include The Macallan Rare Cask single malt Scotch ($384 a 750-ml.) and Casa Dragones Joven Tequila ($342), while numerous luxury wines and Champagnes are also offered, among them Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($127) and vintage Dom Pérignon Champagne.

“We’ve differentiated Pavilions from Albertsons and Vons not only through enhancement of the liquor department, but also of all of the other departments—customers will see a much greater selection of organic, natural products, improved floral selections, and more,” Markert says.

The company is currently in the process of remodeling all its Pavilions locations into Pavilion 2.0 storefronts; as of August, 11 of the 26 locations had undergone renovations, with many more set to follow over the next three years. New stores will also join the crop of remodeled locations, as the umbrella company looks to build its upscale fleet. Market Watch has more on the transformation of the beverage alcohol category at Vons, Albertsons, and Pavilions on its website.—Julia Higgins

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