by Marlon Madden
As luxury travellers continue to make their way to Caribbean destinations and international travel rebounds, the sale and consumption of premium and extra-premium alcoholic beverages continue to soar.
Andy Consuegra, Chief Executive Officer of WEBB Banks, a leading distributor of premium wines and spirits to Central America and the Caribbean, is reporting that super premium brands of alcoholic beverages continued to perform well in Barbados and other regional markets during the height of the pandemic.
“Overall, I would say the high-end premium brands and super-premium brands have done quite well during COVID, and that is true across the region,” he told Today’s BUSINESS.
“There are reasons for that, but certainly at the premium and above level have done quite well. In Barbados our best performing brand over the last few years was Luc Belaire, a sparkling rose.
“We are up 200 per cent alone on that brand. Another trend going across the region, not specific to Barbados, is tequila as a category, they are doing very well,” he reported.
WEBB Banks is also a distributor of the increasingly popular Tito’s Handmade Vodka.
“In 2020 we of course took a step back but it was not as bad as we thought it was going to be despite just about all the markets closing down.
“In 2021 we had a very good year where again, despite many markets being under restrictions and closed, as an overall business we ended the year up 10 per cent versus 2019, and up 30 per cent versus 2020,” said Consuegra, as he pointed to the region’s ability to manage crises and bounce back from disasters.
Though pointing out that data was limited, Consuegra indicated that the increase in the demand for the super premium brands were evident by the increased orders in the various markets and continued travel by luxury travellers.
“They were ordering more premium – higher ticket items,” he said.
Singling out markets such as St Barts, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas and Jamaica, he also noted that the all-inclusive accommodation played in a role in the continued high sales of premium brand alcoholic beverages.
He said while Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas the US Virgin Islands remained the main markets for his distribution firm, Barbados often featured in the Top 10.
The drinks distributor with over two decades experience in the alcoholic beverage industry explained that the absence of more Canadian and British visitor to Bridgetown during the height of the pandemic impacted sales of super premium beverages in that market.
Consuegra told Today’s BUSINESS he was optimistic that the sale of super premium spirits would continue to rise despite sustained restrictions in some markets.
He said while he expected some destinations to tighten restrictions due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus, “for the most part, markets are opened for business and they are going to remain that way”.
“We are very positive on 2022 . . . We think it is going to be a positive year both in the high season and again into the summer as well,” he said. WEBB Banks came about in 2016 with the merger of Consuegra’s company WEBB and the North Carolina-based Banks Channel.
A distributor of premium wines and spirits, WEBB Banks works closely with in market distributors in the Caribbean and Central America, supplying local distributors and hotels and restaurants. Stating that alcoholic beverages played an important role in the hospitality and tourism industry, Consuegra noted, “particularly at the high-end, it directly increases the spend per person and then helps in the accounts and profit margins and it also helps the wait staff.”
“It really helps the hospitality industry at a time when it is really needed. The last two years have been very difficult for the hospitality sector. The ones who made it through will do well,” he added.
He pointed out that while the premiumisation of alcoholic beverages started prior to the pandemic, it was over the last two years that it accelerated, so that while overall tourism numbers were down across the region, the sales of some brand of spirits remained high.
“We don’t have the hard numbers yet but we are seeing it in the markets, we are seeing it in the purchases at the very high-end, even during the early days people were finding ways to get on their private jets and yachts and get into the markets . . www. and we have seen a continuation of that,” he said.
He said while his company has not been spared the impact of the ongoing global shipping challenges, he was able to work with regional partners and stakeholders to minimise that impact.
In fact, Consuegra said he expected those challenges to continue well into this year.
He also acknowledged that the absence of festivals in the region over the past two years did have some impact on the sale of premium alcoholic beverages, but quickly pointed out that it was cushioned by the increased purchase due to more luxury travellers during the pandemic.