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Interview, Part 2: Foley Family Wines CMO Gerard Thoukis

April 4, 2022

In the second part of our interview, Foley Family Wines CMO Gerard Thoukis discusses the company’s focus on the luxury wine segment, e-commerce, and the potential for further acquisitions moving forward.

SND: Looking at the big picture within the luxury wine space, are you noticing any trends or consumer behaviors that will inform FFW’s business going forward?

Thoukis: We can all agree premiumization is not just a buzzword. When the consumer today decides to open a bottle of wine, they want something higher in quality that inherently may cost a bit more money. But really what’s important is the authenticity of the brand. They’re also interested in wine grown sustainably, who is making the wine, where it’s made, and its compelling story. That bodes well for FFW and the real stories and people and vineyards behind it.

Obviously, e-commerce throughout the pandemic has changed consumer behavior. Wine consumers today not only want to buy in retail channels, but they are active online. What’s important is to meet the consumers where they are. FFW has experienced exponential growth in e-commerce. The pandemic had a lot to do with it, but interestingly we did not descend back to pre-pandemic levels in the e-comm channel. It pales in comparison to what our partner Southern Glazer’s is able to do in accounts across the country, but it’s a growing space for us.

Another thing that really distinguishes FFW is that we have so many estate wineries in our portfolio. Each of them has their own guest experience centers, and we’ve invested a lot of time and resources into ensuring the consumer experience on-site is reflective of the brand. It allows us to have a personal connection to the consumer, and that’s a real asset.

SND: Are any specific regions or categories attractive as FFW hunts for more acquisitions?

Thoukis: Our ownership and leadership team evaluate opportunities literally on a daily basis. I think we can have a larger presence in Napa Valley, and we want to grow what we have in Santa Rita Hills. We believe in the future and longevity of Santa Rita Hills in the Santa Barbara appellation. We’re going to continue to invest in Oregon. We have a pretty good footprint with The Four Graces and Acrobat, but we’ve only scratched the surface there. Our owner, Bill Foley, is known as a buyer. So when opportunities present themselves, if he’s intrigued by them he shares it with the executive team and we evaluate. There’s nothing I can divulge at this point, but we’re very active.

SND: Another facet of the company’s focus on the luxury space has been through the Foley Food & Wine Society. How has the response been?

Thoukis: It was instituted by our founder Bill Foley as a celebration of what he termed three of life’s greatest passions: food, wine, and experiences. It allows us to offer consumers who are in our network and community much more than just quality wine. It’s access to quality events, high-quality cuisine, and experiences. And it allows us to cross-market various brands in our portfolio. For example, if someone is fond of Sonoma but unfamiliar with Santa Barbara County or Oregon, we can introduce them to exceptional wines from those regions. We treat the Foley Food & Wine Society very much as an umbrella brand for the entire FFW portfolio. Today, the community of members is in excess of 150,000, and it’s growing very quickly. It’s a true loyalty program whereby consumers have access to special events that are member-specific at our properties and other venues around the country.

SND: Have you seen a correlation between the wines FFW highlights within the society and growth in sales?

Thoukis: For sure, through our 18 guest experience centers at all the individual properties and within Foley Food & Wine Society. We have a wine club that we term the connoisseur club that’s grown extremely rapidly over the past 24 months. It gives consumers an opportunity to experience our wines and then find those in the market across the country. It’s a real opportunity for us to expose our portfolio and generate awareness and trial. Then during their time in restaurants and in retail shops nationwide, they can pick up those same brands.

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