Cellarbrations GisborneBusiness

The “new normal” for independent retailers

By Tony Bongiovanni, owner, Cellarbrations at Gisborne

It’s an exciting time for independent retailers in Australia. While COVID-19 restrictions have been challenging, especially during the second lockdown in Victoria, they have also sparked a new mindset among shoppers.

Consumers have been thrown a curved ball that no one saw coming – they’ve had to adapt and adapt quickly. They’ve been told to stay home, cook, drink, work and live as normally as possible during the pandemic. In the process, they’ve discovered not only the art of cooking fine food, but also the art of appreciating the liquid that accompanies it.

Categories such as craft beer and wine have been particularly strong, but the more adventurous consumers have embraced making cocktails at home. As a result, the gin, vodka and other spirit and liqueurs categories have exploded. The ingredients for making cocktails at home, such as Grenadine, sugar syrup and cocktail shakers, are also booming. It’s had a knock-on effect in the RTD category for occasions when people aren’t in the mood to mix their own drinks.

With restrictions easing and the return to hotels, cafes, restaurants and travel, many retailers are wondering what the new “normal” will be and when it will occur. My guess is that it will be early in 2021.

While the at-home cocktail trend may subside slightly, I believe it will remain an integral part of shopper culture moving forward. Buying spirits and RTDs for everyday occasions, rather than simply for gifting, parties and events, has become much more widely accepted.

Customers are also better educated and aware of the health benefits of the drinks they are consuming. This has been reflected in the buzz around hard seltzer, with social media also playing a big part in this trend. Every man and his dog is bringing out a seltzer, but they still only contribute a very small percentage of sales in the RTD category. My guess is they will survive the summer and then disappear, with a couple staying on shelf moving forward.

The marketing campaign for White Claw has been an interesting one. Lion wasn’t expecting such a huge uptake of the brand when it launched in mid-October. White Claw delivered over $4 million in retail sales value in its first week and supplies were quickly exhausted. We’re being told there won’t be new stock until next year, so I think Brookvale Union Boozy Seltzer will probably will lead the charge over summer, followed by Smirnoff Seltzer.

As for what the coming months hold, people have welcomed the reduction of most of the COVID-19 restrictions, but they are still very frustrated by the remaining ones. However, they appear to be in good spirits and are quite keen to get back to normality.

They have also become more accustomed to shopping locally, which has boosted the independent retail trade. Independents have an integral and important part to play moving forward – if they didn’t exist, would people ever really know if they are paying too little or too much for a product or service?

Another thing that the “big box” retailers can never beat is the individuality and person-to-person contact independent retailers offer consumers. We’re also more agile – we can respond instantly to changing landscapes without having to consult a board of directors or shareholders.

Cheers to supporting independent retailers and having a COVID-safe summer.

Tony Bongiovanni; independent retailers

Tony Bongiovanni owns Cellarbrations in Gisborne, Victoria and is a member of the MGA Liquor Committee. He also owns a function venue, Roomba’s at Mt Aitken, and is co-owner of point-of-sale software company Sas Online, which provides software to independent liquor stores in Australia.

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