Our 2021 Growth Brands Wine Supplier of the Year is E & J Gallo Winery.
Founded just after prohibition in 1933, E & J Gallo Winery today is the largest family-owned winery in America. Iconic brands like Barefoot, New Amsterdam, La Marca and Black Box led the way for strong sales in 2020.
For a look at how Gallo overcame the Covid-fueled obstacles of 2020, we recently spoke with Chief Marketing Officer Stephanie Gallo.
Beverage Wholesaler: How did Gallo succeed so much in the past year?
Stephanie Gallo: In 2020, our company’s guiding principles became, ‘Operate with a tremendous amount of flexibility, empathy and compassion’. By doing so, we were able to adapt, sometimes very quickly, during unprecedented times, and never lose sight of our primary goal, which is to meet the unique needs of our consumers.
BW: What challenges did the company overcome?
SG: Our company was founded just after prohibition in 1933, and we have overcome many challenges throughout the decades. Like everybody else in our industry and, really, the entire world, Gallo tackled many new challenges this past year.
One of the hardest hits was dealt to our on-premise partners. We responded by launching a multifaceted program called ROAR — Rescue Our Amazing Restaurants.
Our ROAR program encouraged our sales teams to continue frequenting the on-premise accounts in their areas, purchase take-out meals and then donate the meals to those in need — whether that was a food bank, senior citizens, a charitable organization or those on the front line. To date, we have distributed more than 116,000 meals to people who needed them most.
That was just one of the ways we pivoted across the entire organization practically overnight. I have learned to never underestimate the resolve of our employees. They were immediately willing to adapt, help and learn new ways of working, as well as collaborating in new and different ways.
It took some time to learn how to function in the virtual work from home environment. Transparency and empathy were key, along with ensuring that our teams asked for help when they needed it. I have been so inspired by the workings of our collective teams since the pandemic began.
Most importantly, we always look through the lens of continuous improvement and progress over perfection. We know there will be moments of failure, but by leveraging the right tools and technology, along with an agile mindset, we are more quickly able to work through challenges, as well as opportunities that allow our business and our teams to thrive.
We’ve seen a shift in consumer behaviors and shopping habits as well. Online grocery sales, direct to consumer and e-commerce channels saw tremendous growth. By November 2020, 1 in 5 alcohol drinkers purchased alcohol online, up from 1 in 10 in March 2020. Also, 53% of online alcohol buyers since the start of Covid are first-time online alcohol buyers.
We’ve also seen the growth of digital purchasing and alcohol delivery, a channel that is actively attracting new consumers. We saw that 17% of Americans are ordering alcohol via digital purchase and delivery for the first time. If this trial becomes habit — and we saw signs over the year that it has for some consumers — it could be a sizable new channel for the future. Consumers have embraced the ease and flexibility of this channel, and we anticipate this behavior will continue into the future.
BW: What brands helped lead the way for Gallo?
SG: When the world around us changed overnight, we recognized that consumers gravitated toward well-established brands. Brands like Barefoot, New Amsterdam, La Marca and Black Box have led the way. In addition, High Noon Hard Seltzer has experienced explosive growth, capitalizing on the momentum behind ready-to-drink beverages.
BW: What marketing/promotions helped lead the way?
SG: We are investing in technology as we need to find new ways of connecting consumers to our brands. The online, direct-to-consumer channel has become more important than ever as we look to drive growth across all consumer segments. We’ve also created several new programs to connect and interact directly with consumers via online platforms.
Overall, we saw consumers developing new habits and ways of connecting with one another. Consumption shifted from on-premise to at-home, a trend and rate that remained steady throughout the year.
We supported this change by pivoting how we communicate, and engaging more personally with our consumers through new virtual experiences. For example, we launched a weekly ‘Supper Series’ cooking demo with our executive chefs from Louis M. Martini Winery and J Vineyards & Winery on social media platforms.