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Interview, Part 2: Britt West, Gallo’s Vice President, General Manager For Spirits

July 20, 2020

In the second part of our interview, E.&J. Gallo’s head of spirits Britt West discusses opportunities in upscale brandy, rum, and liqueurs; prospects for Gallo’s larger spirits brands; and the explosive growth of the High Noon hard seltzer label.High Noon, which has rocketed out to annual volume of 700,000 9-liter case equivalents after launching last year, was recently named an Impact “Hot Brand.”

SND: Amaro Montenegro and Diplomático rum are two more recent additions to the upscale spirits range. What do they bring to the portfolio?

West: Amaro Montenegro is the bartender’s handshake. We’ll continue to help them expand in retail and in cocktail offerings. It’s highly mixable and plays well in a lot of different drinks, like the Montenegro and Mezcal or Montenegro and Tonic. The other piece that’s exciting for us with Montenegro is their Select Aperitivo, because of the ongoing Spritz movement. Aperol, as we know, has become global and really transcended the regionality of the cocktail, but the original Venetian Spritz was made with Select Aperitivo. There’s an incredible body of history and rich imagery that we can associate with Venice and the Select brand. The fact that we have La Marca Prosecco, the leading Prosecco in the industry, doesn’t hurt either. With Diplomático, we also think that luxury rum is going to have its moment. Diplomático has been on fire in Nielsen and IRI the past 12 weeks, led by the higher-end Reserva Exclusiva.

SND: You’ve also made moves in brandy recently. How do you see that category developing?

West: It’s going to take time for the consumer to discover what the true art of brandy can be, but the fact is that so many of the classic cocktails now made with Bourbon and rye were originally brandy cocktails. We have two expressions, Germain-Robin and Germain-Robin XO, that have just been re-released with new packaging, in very limited quantities. We’ll layer on top of that some unique barrel expressions at higher tiers. Germain-Robin lives very much in fine dining and icon lodging and restaurant accounts. Our other project is Argonaut, priced a little bit more accessibly. Argonaut is predominantly available in California right now, very focused on the mixology and dining scene. We’ll also have a brandy consumer experience coming soon to offer an introduction and education on the history of California brandy.

SND: How is the outlook for broader market brands like New Amsterdam vodka and High Noon seltzer?

West: With High Noon, we have a tiger by the tail. In IRI and Nielsen data, we’re No.-3 after White Claw and Truly in a number of key retailers around the country. It was a simple idea, and most good ones are simple, right? We looked at the space, and everything was malt or sugar beer-based. We saw an opportunity, by using a vodka base and real fruit juice, to attract a consumer who’s willing to trade up to a premium offering. Almost 10% of any category is going to be premium, and hard seltzer is already a very big category, so we’ll be happy to have that premium end. The on-premise has picked it up as well during this time, where people want less touches, less contact with their cocktail. In vodka, New Amsterdam is one of only two brands taking share, according to IRI, the other being Tito’s. So from a brand performance perspective, it’s very healthy. Our more commercial Tequila, Camarena, plays at just above $20. Everybody’s watched how Tequila has accelerated during the past 90 days, but that brand is also taking share. Recently, on-premise accounts started to need 50-mls., 200-mls., and 375s to make to-go Margaritas, which really became a lifeline for some of those businesses. We’ve had sufficient inventory to meet that demand, and we’ve seen Camarena actually grow on-premise versus last year.

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