These are unprecedented times. And we’re all facing historic challenges. But for the food and beverage industry, the threat is nothing short of existential. By August of 2020 it was already estimated that nearly 16,000 restaurants across the country had shuttered permanently since the start of the pandemic. That number is expected to triple before year’s end. To provide some glimmer of hope, we’ll be talking to professionals from across the space for a sense of how they’re adapting to the realities of the day, while preparing for a more promising future.
Starting things off is a conversation with Amanda Stackman, an executive at Fever-Tree USA. As marketing director for one of the world’s top-selling premium mixers, she has had the unenviable task of keeping things steady for the brand throughout the COVID-19 era. Here’s how she’s helped navigate the ship through these treacherous waters.
When did Fever-Tree first realize the seriousness of the pandemic and its potential impact on the company and its sales?
Immediately. As with everyone else, we followed the news as it unfolded and took it day by day, keeping tabs on our beloved bars, restaurants and hotel partners, as well as our essential retailers. This global pandemic has brought unforeseen consequences for all, no one person or company has been immune to its effects. And since COVID-19 continues to remain, these “strange times” are officially becoming the “new normal” and we have been focusing on what we can do versus what we can’t.
Fever-Tree is known as an on-premise brand that is served at top bars and restaurants around the world. What percentage of Fever-Tree’s on-premise accounts shut down initially?
At the start of the pandemic, the entire hospitality industry entered a period of disruption and uncertainty as a result of nationwide shutdowns. As time progressed, some of our partners were able to turn the lights back on and churn out novel to-go cocktails and get creative with outdoor set-ups, making use of temporary legislation.
What did you find most inspiring about that difficult time period?
This pandemic is spotlighting the tenacity of bars and restaurants to innovate, as well as the close-knit nature of the drinks industry.
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Were you able to help any of your on-premise accounts?
We were able to provide the tools that bars needed to get drinks out the door, whether that was branded cocktail carriers, tote bags or bundling our mixers with pre-batched drinks to be topped off at home. As streets and parking lanes morphed into dining rooms on-the-fly, we got creative and built mobile bars to help trade across the U.S. when faced with the prospect of an outdoor-only set-up.
Let’s talk about that phrase that is on the tip of everyone’s tongue in the corporate world: the pivot. What did it look like for Fever-Tree?
We prioritized the consumer experience first and foremost. This is a unique time where we were actually practicing what we preached or in this case offering. We were already building our e-commerce presence, but this accelerated the need. We positioned ourselves as agilely as possible to meet this new demand in this new space. Our saleforce engaged across big box to local liquor to cocktail delivery platforms. Mixers were greatly needed and needed to be delivered during the pandemic and we worked backwards to get there. There were lot of moving parts.
What consumption patterns emerged during the pandemic?
Mixing cocktails at home was already tracking before the pandemic. But as we shelter in place — with lockdowns and bar closures — undoubtedly people are getting more ambitious and enthusiastic with what and how they go about making a cocktail. Quarantine has afforded a sampling opportunity for premium mixers, as ease is a key theme for many consumers who are just now trying their hands at mixology. Two to three ingredient cocktails have soared due to simplicity and versatility, ultimately drawing more households to our range.
Did you launch any new products during the pandemic?
Yes. Fever-Tree Sparkling Pink Grapefruit. Despite launching during the pandemic, [it] has been our strongest launch, fruitfully tapping into the unceasingly popular tequila category. Tequila grew 64% over the summer and our soda provided a two-step solution to replicate the beloved Paloma, the spirit’s simple serve highball that most consumers anticipated ordering at their favorite bar this past Cinco De Mayo. Many of our bar partners jumped at the chance to offer to-go Paloma and Spritz kits to pair our mixers with tequila and vodka bottles — a win/win to run through inventory and offer a D-I-Y option for patrons.
How has Fever-Tree supported the bartending community throughout the pandemic?
We knew we had to get creative to do our part to support our friends in need on a professional and personal level. We started by redirecting costs from experiential to empower our bartenders to create meaningful local impact and be part of the solution. We hired bartenders to be our content creators, to host Instagram takeovers and to teach virtual mixology series. We gave bartenders a spotlight in the media, bringing attention to their craft and accounts. We also sent mixer care packages to furloughed bartenders and barbacks to raise their spirits and opened up tabs at accounts to toast the heart of the industry.