Beam Suntory embraces “digital revolution” to weather COVID-19 storm

Phil Restall

Phil Restall’s first few months in his new position have been “a baptism of fire.”

But the Beam Suntory General Manager of Travel Retail, who was appointed to his new position in October, confidently predicts Beam Suntory’s global travel retail business will emerge from this pandemic in a strong position, thanks in part to its “digital revolution.”

“While the pandemic has sadly created such global devastation, one positive is it’s been a great experience facing these challenges head on and working together with a very talented GTR team and supportive business to navigate the crisis,” Restall tells TMI.

“I have learned a great deal about what’s important to our customers as they look to recover and the resilience and tenacity of not only my team but the industry in general as it plans to bounce back better. We are working hard with our customer partners to plan the recovery, and we have very exciting plans including some extraordinary launches in the pipeline,” he says.

Beam Suntory will need to focus on where the consumers are actually traveling, and what they are looking to purchase, insists Restall.

“There are a number of bright spots on the horizon. Beam Suntory is committed to the GTR channel, its recovery and the important role it strategically plays in building our iconic brands around the world. In the short to medium term as the recovery materializes, it’s important
we adapt to what our customers and their shoppers are looking for. This will require an agile approach to planning, a strong focus on execution and a requirement to ensure investment is re-prioritized to faster growing areas or recovery, such as Hainan Island, or accelerating shopper behavior in the e-commerce space. Certain channels and geographies will recover quicker than others — America will rebound strongly, it’s just a question of ‘when,’” he says.

Data more important than ever

“We use multiple data sources, industry experts and insight from our customer partners to best project where faster recovering geographies and channels are likely to occur. This has resulted in an ongoing, iterative planning cycle to continually build the strongest, most sustainable plan for our categories and our customers as we collectively recover. It’s important to make ‘tough choices’ and ensure every dollar of brand investment delivers a return for all parties, with a clear focus on projected PAX return and priority locations.”

E-commerce will become much more common for travel retail sales in the near future, says Restall.

“The pandemic has accelerated the growth of online alcohol sales in many markets worldwide, and travel retail operators have evolved and introduced new online retail services facilitating home delivery of travel retail exclusive and duty- absorbed products,” he says.

“In terms of the most challenging comeback, traveling shoppers’ buying habits will undoubtedly have changed and will continue to shift away from what we have historically known as a direct result of COVID. In fact many aspects of this new shopper behavior, including e-commerce penetration and the increasing importance of digital as a key medium on the shopper path to purchase, will likely become the ‘new normal’ so it’s critical we understand and adapt to these new opportunities.”

Beam Suntory has been building new capabilities and massively accelerating efforts in key areas to ensure it is in the right place to lead the recovery, with a growing emphasis on digital elements.

Digital integration on all levels

The company realizes that it will need to integrate digital at all levels of the channel.

“The business has been focusing its efforts – not just in GTR, but across the entire organization – on upweighting digital capability, for example, to ensure we still engage and connect with priority shoppers who have new shopping habits.

“We are working very closely with our retailers to integrate digital as part of the shopper journey. This will mean partnering through various digital platforms to enable a smoother shopper journey and reduce physical interaction where desired or required in line with COVID safety measures.”

As part of Beam Suntory’s “digital revolution” the company has optimized imagery and copy for all brands that retailers can use for improved consumer navigation.

“It is important that we, as a channel, continue to invest in digital services such as click-and-collect and online loyalty programs to future-proof our business and meet new shopper behavior. There are great examples of platform interaction that we’ve seen coming from some Asian markets in particular, for example, where social media has integrated as part of e-commerce. We are learning all the time.”

Priority brand focus

Beam Suntory Global Travel Retail has a clear focus on its priority brands in the channel.

“It’s been interesting to see that consumers have continued to gravitate to not only these global icons, but also remain open to premiumization and our exclusive liquids. Therefore, we’ve been focusing on our core range as well as drawing attention to the expansion of our innovation portfolio and demonstrating this through NPD. For example, the end of last year saw the launch of two premium whisky expressions – firstly Ao, the world’s first world-blended whisky and first innovative whisky to launch in GTR since the coronavirus pandemic began. Secondly, Jim Beam Lineage, a batched premium expression created by Fred and Freddie Noe, available later this year. Additionally, just this month, Bowmore Timeless 31-year-old was announced as a GTR exclusive.
“An incredible collaboration and ongoing show of support to the channel’s recovery was when we announced Bowmore Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky as the new exclusive spirits partner of Aston Martin Lagonda last November. The prestigious partnership will see the two British luxury brands come together to create an exclusive series of outstanding products and experiences, starting with the unveiling of Black Bowmore DB5 1964. With only 25 bottles for sale, the exceptionally rare Black Bowmore DB5 1964 is a celebration of time; a definitive moment in history for both Bowmore and Aston Martin.”