With tourism essentially shut down, WEBB Banks’ focus on the Caribbean local markets during the coronavirus pandemic has helped propel the leading wine and spirits distribution company to a stronger position than it was in a year ago, says WEBB Banks CEO Andy Consuegra.
TMI met recently with Consuegra; Phillip Jarrell, Vice President, Marketing & Supplier Relationships; and Jose Castellvi at the new WEBB Banks office in Coconut Grove, Miami.
Castellvi, who joined WEBB Banks earlier this year in the newly created role of Vice President, Travel Retail and Spirits, is responsible for the day-to-day management of the company’s growing spirits portfolio, as well as cultivating and maintaining relationships with duty free partners.
“We took on new brands and we added more people. Contrary to the industry trend, we’ve shown positive growth in a very difficult market,” says Castellvi.
“Our focus still is the Caribbean, and we want to grow Central America, where we had substantial growth last year. We also feel that we are well positioned to continue growing with the cruise line business when it comes back. While U.S. travel retail is not our main focus, we still have brands that are well positioned.”
In fact, travel retail accounted for around 12% of WEBB Banks’ total sales in 2020. Since the company is diversified into other markets like the Caribbean, its business was not impacted as much as others by travel bans, says Consuegra.
“Within our Caribbean business, some islands got hurt, but we also had a lot of positive local market business. We were up 30% in Puerto Rico, flat in the Dominican Republic, and slightly up in Panama. We also did okay in the Virgin Islands,” says Consuegra.
Having team members present in the local markets is a core aspect of WEBB Banks, and one that gave it a distinct advantage during 2020.
“The strategy of the company moving forward is to continue to base people not in Miami, but in market. That’s one of the silver linings, that we had people in market. Nobody could travel and we had people there. This is an advantage WEBB has over some of our competitors,” says Consuegra.
“Markets that are not so dependent on tourism are where we prospered last year. Reaffirming that base solidified our business there last year. And we are ready for when the tourists do come back,” adds Jarrell.
High performing wine brands
In a major development, WEBB Banks had taken on the Constellation Brands portfolio last March, just as COVID-19 shut down the world. Constella tion and its powerful portfolio of wines and spirits had an enormous impact on WEBB Banks’ business over the past year, says Consuegra.
“We started March 1, 2020 with Constellation. It was a difficult March but the portfolio gave us the scale to weather the storms. And that enabled us to hire people to move forward rather than backwards. The Constellation portfolio gave us that additional critical mass. It made all the difference,” says Consuegra.
“We have Constellation’s entire wines and spirits portfolio for the Caribbean, and are focused on Constellation’s strategy of premiumized brands. We are coming in with Robert Mondavi Woodbridge and moving up from there. Their spirits portfo- lio is good and getting stronger with brands like Svedka, Casa Noble, and High West,” says Jarrell.
“But they are really exploding the pre- mium side of their wine portfolio, focusing on Meiomi, and growing Kim Crawford and the Prisoner Wine Company, and some other new product developments. It is just a really fun, consumer friendly portfolio,” he says.
“A big wine brand that did really well last year is 19 Crimes, which was up around 25%. We also launched at the end of last year 19 Crimes Cali Red by Snoop Dog, with a Rosé launching now. We were up on 19 Crimes ahead of the launch of Snoop Dog, and that’s been a tremendous success,” says Consuegra.
“We also launched, in addition to Penfolds from Australia, Penfolds from California. Caymus is another big brand, which we continue to do really well with.”
Exciting new spirits
WEBB Banks’ portfolio is split almost evenly between wines and spirits.
In January, WEBB Banks signed an agreement with California-based distributor Infinium Spirits to distribute its spirits portfolio in travel retail in the Americas, cruise lines, the Caribbean basin and select Central American markets, effective immediately.
Under the agreement, WEBB Banks will exclusively distribute and represent Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, Temple- ton Rye American Whiskey, Zaya Rum as well as the ultra-luxury brand Tears of Llorona Tequila through their existing route to market.
Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey has been an enormous success since it was launched in 2018. Earlier this year it was named Best New Product at 2020’s Market Watch Leaders Awards, voted on by over 200 active leaders in the alcoholic beverage industry. In early 2020, Beverage Information & Insights Group named Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey one of the fastest growing whiskey brands. Skrewball sold more than 700,000 cases in 2020, just its third year in existence.
WhistlePig Rye Whiskey has been another success story since it joined the portfolio last year, says Consuegra. WEBB Banks distributes the brand in the Carib- bean, Central America, and travel retail.
Experienced team is key
Consuegra is full of pride for how his WEBB Banks team dealt with the trials of the past year.
“When you have the right team and they can step up and walk right into ad- versity, I have so much pride for them and what they were able to do last year. I have so much admiration for them. They were always so positive, and were filled with energy and focus,” says Consuegra.
“Our team has experience and expertise, and love and know our industry.” And now WEBB Banks is adding another experienced travel retail name to its team.
Beginning May 1, Curran Welch Zinn, well known from her long tenure at Alexander James & Co., is joining WEBB Banks as Key Accounts Director.
“We are preempting the return of the cruise industry, hiring a specific person to help us with that market,” says Castellvi.
WEBB Banks will be shuffling a few more roles in the coming months as the company launches an exciting new division for wellness, says Consuegra.
“Jose today is running travel retail and all the spirits brands for marketing. He’ll take on more responsibility and by summer will run all of WEBB Banks,” says Consuegra. “Phillip Jarell will run a new wellness division that WEBB Banks is launching in May. I will still be overseeing everything, and am going on the board of Ghost Tequila.”
The new roles and responsibilities will reaffirm WEBB Banks’ commitment to the region and further strengthen its position, explains Castellvi.
“Our focus is still on our main suppliers. We are constantly investing in the business. As we take on large new brands we are adding people. At the end of the day it is about scale and we have said that from day one. You have to be important to the customers, whether it is the duty free operators, cruise lines, in-market wholesalers, or retailers,” says Castellvi. “The other thing that set us apart last year is our cash flow management, which allowed the company to come out strong.”
Looking ahead, Consuegra expects this year to be better than 2020, but not as good as 2019.
“We think we are in a better position than we were going into the storm. We are operating much more efficiently. We have a better team. The confidence you get from going into a storm and coming out stronger is invaluable,” says Consuegra.
Its success is all about what WEBB Banks calls ‘relationships times three:’ amongst themselves, amongst its customers, and amongst its supplier partners.
“Relationships are at the core of what we do,” says Jarrell. “The relationships we were able to forge amongst our own team, the relationships we were able to strengthen with our customer base throughout the region whether it’s the Caribbean, Central America, or travel retail. And also the relationships with our suppliers.”
As part of its strong relationships and a corporate philosophy, WEBB Banks was involved with a number of charity initia- tives throughout the region.
“We did a lot of charity work with Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Treasury Wines,” notes Consuegra. “Probably the toughest conversation I had last year during the pandemic was with Tito’s when they thought we hadn’t run enough of the Food for Friends programs. So we tripled the amount of programs we were doing.”
The Tito’s Food for Friends program purchases take-out meals from restaurants and makes the complimentary meals avail- able for both industry and non-industry individuals in need.
“Through Food for Friends we’ve been able to partner up with restaurants and hand out meals for hospitality workers. It has been very positive in ten markets throughout the Caribbean and Central America. We are about to do another series of them in the Bahamas called Hands for Hunger. Tito’s is amazing. It is great to be able to associate with a company that philanthropic and that forward thinking. They do things the right way,” says Jarrell.