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‘Luxury Starts With The Product’

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For long, vodka was a mass drink. But two decades ago, marketers spiritedly tried to create premium and luxury vodkas. Belvedere from the house of Moët Hennessey was created in the 1990s. BW’s Chitra Narayanan caught up with Charles Gibb, president, Belvedere, during his recent trip to India. Excerpts of the interview:

Moët Hennessey has so many liquor brands — what’s the entry strategy it follows in a country? 
Our strategy in all markets is to enter with core portfolio — champagnes and cognacs.  Moët, Dom Pérignons and Krug tend to be early movers along with Hennessey cognac. We then expand our portfolio through Glenmorengie or a brand like Belvedere. And, finally, we look at opportunities to create something dynamic. Such as the recent launch of Chandon India — a product created exclusively for the domestic market. Chandon India, produced in the local market from India-grown grapes, is doing extremely well.

The amazing thing about our group is that, on one hand, we are very traditional in the way we select our brands and, on the other, equally modern and innovative in bringing something completely new to the marketplace.

When did Belvedere enter India?
Belvedere was launched in 2005, 12 years after it was created in Poland in 1993. It is a very exciting and dynamic brand, if you look at the context in which it was created. The context was the fall of communism in 1989. Poland had a sudden awakening, and a huge amount of foreign investment and domestic innovation happening simultaneously.
 
Belvedere was created as a top-end luxury vodka in the Polish market. We are privileged to have the Polish presidential palace — the Belvedere Palace — on our bottle.

Are there no issues with using the Polish flag on a liquor bottle? 
We have the right to use it because of the original creation of the brand. It tells who we are as a brand. The blue strip says Polska, which means the grains are grown in Poland and (the liquor is) distilled in Poland. We use Polish water, and also bottle in Poland.    

What gives a product a luxury standing?  Especially something like vodka. 
Luxury starts with the product. It starts inside the bottle for us. If you pick up a top-end handbag, the stitching will be immaculate. It’s important to look perfect. We work a lot on the packaging and build an aspirational image for the brand.  

How do you ensure the exclusivity of the brand?
The key is in innovation and creativity. It’s no good if we produce the same Belvedere year after year. I have to do different things — more diverse marketing programmes. We have developed a bottle that shines at night; it’s a glowing beacon.We innovate in products, in terms of our packaging.  We have created another tier for the brand — the Belvedere Gold, where the tree is real gold. It’s our halo product.  

It’s equally important for brands to have partnerships that set them apart from the rest. We have that with RED (an organisation that brings together businesses and people to fight against AIDS). It has raised in excess of $250 million for a global fund. 

Isn’t CSR a hypocritical activity for an alcohol brand?
Alcohol does play a role in social good; it brings people together and helps them relax and celebrate. As long as it is consumed responsibly, I don’t put alcohol in the same bracket as a cigarette brand.

chitra@businessworld.in
twitter:@ndcnn

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 14-07-2014)