As international tourism dried up MONARQ Group shifted its focus to digital marketing, social media and e-commerce, Managing Director Robert de Monchy tells TMI.
To promote its brands on social media, the independent premium wine and spirits distributor launched MONARQ’s Social Club early on during the pandemic with overwhelmingly positive feedback from participants. The company specializes in the duty free and domestic markets in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as USA Duty Free.
“MONARQ’s Social Club is an online platform, promoted mainly on Instagram, where we promote digital initiatives of our brand portfolio and provide access to exclusive masterclasses, Q&A sessions, live tastings, live distillery tours and more,” says de Monchy.
De Monchy believes digital elements need to play ever more important roles for duty free to remain relevant to consumers.
“I am always optimistic and, at the same time, believe that the duty free/ travel retail industry needs fundamental change, like the integration of e-commerce. The duty free industry is basically built on legislation. If you think about it, why would you be able to purchase tax free in one location and not in another? The pandemic has shown the vulnerability of the sector,” he says.
“We have temporarily adapted our travel retail business but have not changed our strategy. Our strategy is long term and we are committed to the channel. Going forward, we believe that the pandemic has propelled change in the travel retail industry, which has fundamentally remained unchanged for many years.”
MONARQ has seen some positive duty free business, mainly in Latin America.
“On the duty free side, 2020 has indeed been a challenging year, while on the domestic side we have seen healthy growth of our overall business. The individual performances by category and brand have been different, depending on the markets, e-commerce availability and split between on- and off trade channels,” he says.
“On the duty free side of the business, the brighter spots have been in the Latin American duty free border stores, especially on the Brazilian border, Argentina excluded. It looks like we will be in the pandemic for a little longer, all depending on the vaccination programs in the different countries. For Duty Free airport retail sales, you need borders to re- open and travel between countries, so we also depend on the vaccination programs outside the USA. For cruise ships it’s a bit different because of its relatively large dependency on U.S. tourists. We have recently heard about cruise ships planning to embark their passengers in Caribbean islands like Bahamas and St Maarten, instead of mainland USA. We have strong distribution in these islands, so this could play out well.”
De Monchy saw the pandemic as the ideal time to streamline MONARQ’s wine and spirits portfolio, deciding to let go of some brands, while identifying others that are on trend.
“As a result of this, we recently added a number of fantastic brands, such as Bollinger Champagne, Conosur wines from Chile and Codigo Tequila 1530. We also expanded our partnership with Asahi Premium Brands to include USA Duty Free for Asahi Beer.”
These adjustments to its portfolio along with the company’s increased reliance on internet tools set MONARQ up for a post-COVID world, says de Monchy.
“MONARQ is committed to the growth of our brands and our company. The only constant thing is change; this is the reality for the coming years, and the ones that do not have this sense of urgency will unfortunately be facing increasingly difficult times.”