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Interview: Albertsons Beverage Alcohol Chief Curtis Mann

May 26, 2021

Albertsons is the second-largest grocer in the U.S., with about 20 retail brands, including Albertsons, Safeway, Balducci’s, Andronico’s and Jewel Osco. For its fiscal 2020, ended in February, the company reported a 17% jump in revenue to nearly $70 billion. Albertsons has seen continued strength so far in its new financial year, noting that high-end wines are among the items driving gains. SND contributing editor Terri Allan spoke with Curtis Mann, group vice president, total alcohol beverage, who joined the company recently from Raley’s, for an update on trends across Albertsons’ footprint.

SND: How has Albertsons’ overall beverage alcohol business performed lately?

Mann: We’re a very large player in beverage alcohol, and we saw significant growth across all three categories in 2020. Customers looked to us as their food, wine, beer, and spirits destination, as we have deep selection across all categories and stores. We sell beer in 2,000 stores, wine in 1,800 stores, and spirits in 1,200 stores. Beer and wine are even in sales, with spirits closely behind. This year, we’re still doing quite well, even though we’re lapping some aggressive numbers from last year. In markets where customers have returned to restaurants, we’re seeing that they’re still staying with us. Premiumization and localization trends are continuing.

SND: What trends are you seeing for wine so far in 2021?

Mann: Domestic high-end sparkling wines and Champagne are showing outstanding trends versus 2019. Imported iconic wines such as Bordeaux and Brunello di Montalcino are also being sought out, and we’re seeing strong growth in $10-$30 imported wines from countries like Spain, France, and New Zealand. Biodynamic farming and lower alcohol are also emerging as features of interest for our wine customers.

SND: What trends stand out for spirits and beer?

Mann: Premium Tequila—priced at $20-$50 a bottle—is on fire. Tequila above $50 is also doing well, but we just can’t get a lot of it. And ready-to-drink cocktails have benefited from the pandemic as consumers want those drinks that they were getting at the bar for home, effectively and conveniently. Better-for-you beers—low-calorie and low-carb—are also a big trend now. And of course, hard seltzers continue to be a fun category for consumers, with a lot of new entrants.

SND: Albertsons also offers a portfolio of proprietary wine and spirits. How have customers responded?

Mann: We have an expansive portfolio of own brands, and we’re seeing a positive reception to boxed and canned wine, as well as organic and sustainable wine. Many of our own brand premium spirits are also doing well, including our vodka.

SND: What changes has the pandemic forced you to make on the marketing side?

Mann: We plan to continue our virtual tastings as our customers are interested in education, and they provide us with more reach than in-store tastings. We know our role is more than just selling beverage alcohol. It’s also about teaching our customers about pairings. We have a lot of plans for the next 6-12 months that are built around education. And where we can, we will return to in-store tastings.

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