Interview: Breakthru Beverage Supports Those Affected By COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the on-premise industry, while also posing a daily threat to first-responders. This crisis really is a case of haves and have-nots. Some people can work safely from home, while many others are out of jobs, or have essential roles on the frontlines of this spreading disease.

Organizations like Breakthru Beverage have stepped up to help those who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The wholesaler recently announced a $500,000 commitment to partner with nonprofit organizations, restaurants and restaurant groups to purchase meals for frontline responders, as well as vulnerable populations affected by the crisis. This includes working with the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation, an advocacy group created by and for restaurant workers.

For a deeper look into Breakthru Beverage’s charitable focus during these trying times, we recently spoke with Jacob Onufrychuk, Senior Manager, Strategy at Breakthru Beverage.

Beverage Wholesaler: Why is a broader charitable focus so important right now?

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Jacob Onufrychuk, Senior Manager, Strategy, Breakthru Beverage.

Jacob Onufrychuk: Beyond being a business, we’re members of a community. We felt an obligation to try to make a difference for people on the frontlines, and those who are most at risk during this strange time.

We wanted to help those who are providing meals to people like hospital workers who are the most vulnerable right now. We feel that’s it’s an important thing we can do as members of the community.

BW: It was great to see your focus on first responders. We worry that perhaps this group is easier to overlook as so many of us work comfortably from home.

JO: For many of us, this crisis seems like we’re doing a lot of the same things that we were doing before the crisis, only now slightly different. Now we’re working from home instead of in the office.

But we have neighbors, and we’re connected with the world around us, so we realize that many people have seen their lives turned upside down. Medical workers are working incredibly long hours and doing so while having to self-distance from their families. My neighbor is an ER doctor, and that’s the situation he’s been in for weeks.

We’re very cognizant that there’s a need that we can help meet.

BW: Why did you choose to partner with the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation?

JO: We found a good fit between what we’re trying to accomplish and what that nonprofit does. Their mission is to support those in the industry, and bring relief to individuals who are out of work, the restaurant workers who are impacted by all this. It’s a good fit for what the current time calls for from all of us, and we’re very proud to partner with this organization.

BW: Rhetorical question, of course, but why is it so critical to support on-premise?

JO: The same reason that we recognize that we operate within a broader community. We’re very connected with the community of restaurant workers as people who all work within this wonderful business. On-premise is a key pillar of our community and our business during normal times. During normal times, we’re all working together and supporting each other to create places where restaurant-goers can socialize together and celebrate.

During these extraordinary times, it’s appropriate for us to support the on-premise industry, given how they’re being impacted.

BW: What are ways that the rest of us can help?

JO: First and foremost, everyone should prioritize the health and safety of themselves and their community. And everyone should remember that there are still many ways to support the on-premise industry. There are delivery options, carryout, gift cards and charitable donations to organizations like the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation and others.

That’s how we can support individuals and support the industry as a whole. Also, we’re working with legislators to expand these business’ abilities to sell alcohol, like to-go cocktails, through the channels available to them. There are ways that we can allow those businesses to do some sort of business at this time.

BW: What do you think the alcohol industry will look like after this crisis recedes?

JO: I think that’s hard to predict. There are a lot of factors that we just don’t know at this point, including how long this pandemic will last.

I do think that we will see the acceleration of a number of trends that were already in place before all this began. Trends like digitization and ecommerce. There will be more options for consumers to order from local restaurants and retailers, and have their orders delivered to their homes. These are key things that we’re already experiencing in our business, and building more and more into our capabilities. 

Just look at the Google search history for ‘alcohol delivery’. For years and years before all this, it crept up, a little at a time. Then in the last month or so it shot up, vertically, off the charts.

Some of that will decrease after we return to some form of normal, but some amount of it will remain durably after this crisis.

I want to reiterate about our support of the on-premise industry that this is all driven by us feeling part of the broader community. That includes our competitors. Right now, we’re members of the same community first, competitors second. We’re very proud of our wholesaler peers, and the industry as a whole, in the way that they’ve all come together to support each other and the industry as a whole

This interview was edited and condensed for publication.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Wholesaler. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece How Brown-Forman is Handling the Coronavirus Crisis.

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