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Interview, Part 2: Blake Leonard of Stew Leonard’s Wines & Spirits

December 3, 2021

In the second part of our interview, Blake Leonard, vice president of Stew Leonard’s Wines & Spirits, discusses wine and spirits trends at the family-owned retailer, which has revenues of about $100 million, as well as its enhanced focus on the e-commerce segment.

SND: What key consumer trends are driving business at Stew Leonard’s lately?

Leonard: There are a lot more knowledgeable customers coming through the doors. If they used to ask for a red wine, they are now asking for a varietal. If they used to drink cocktails out at a restaurant or bar, they are now making them at home. Customers are looking for the ingredients to make a Margarita, Manhattan, Old Fashioned etc. or they will pick up single-serve, ready-to-drink brands like On the Rocks. We continue to see huge interest in vodka, Bourbon, and Tequila, as well as new interest in Japanese whiskies.

SND: Has the pandemic changed up the mix in the wine category over the past two years? What are you seeing in that category?

Leonard: The pandemic was incredibly tough for the restaurant industry, but my family’s stores were able to get access to a lot of brands that sell well in restaurants, and in turn promote them in the stores. Customers love Wolffer’s Summer in a Bottle Rosé, for example. It’s usually in and out in a flash, but this year many stores were able to have it in stock for longer. I think the aftereffects of the situation will be that more people will know about these premium brands in the future.

SND: How is Stew Leonard’s e-commerce business developing?

Leonard: During the pandemic, more than 25% of the weekly sales at our stores in Connecticut and New Jersey were online sales for curbside pickup and delivery. Our customers have loved the convenience. Moving forward, growing the online presence is a big opportunity and the priority is making sure that the experience of shopping online is just as exciting as shopping in our stores. The goal is to make it seamless and easy.

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