Tony Bongiovanni, owner of Cellarbrations in Gisborne, Victoria, shares his views on the rapidly evolving liquor retail landscape during the challenges of 2020.
How long have you been in the liquor business?
My love of the industry started in 1975 where my first job was in a hotel as a barman. I progressed quickly to barman/bottleshop manager and bought my first bottleshop in 1978. I’ve gone on to own bottleshops all over Victoria.
Currently I own Cellarbrations in Gisborne and I’m a member of the MGA Liquor Committee, plus I have a family-run function venue in Gisborne and I’m half owner of a point-of-sale software company that provides software to a large percentage of independent liquor stores in Australia.
What do you love about the drinks trade?
I love the people within the industry, the networking, working and talking with the public, social events, conferences and taking home a good bottle of shiraz!
Would you describe 2020 as the most unprecedented year you’ve experienced?
Most definitely. Who could have forecast the onslaught onto retail liquor stores from March till now?
Have buying habits changed over the course of the pandemic? Were people more budget conscious in the beginning, but are now looking for little luxuries?
Absolutely correct. The strong sales have been widespread over all price points. Premium categories are currently appearing to take the baton, especially in the categories of spirits, pre mix and craft beers, but let’s not forget the wine category with $100+ premium reds very active.
What types of craft beer are the most popular right now?
Hard question to answer. Craft beer has been in growth for some time now, but most definitely we’ve seen a shift from mainstream beer to premium craft beers, with consumers looking for quality over quantity and price not being such an issue. There are many brands leading this charge with outstanding “seasonal” releases, from the likes of, Daintons, Black Hops, Deeds, Bad Shepherd and Pirate Life. But our best volume sellers are Stone & Wood and Colonial.
What other types of alcohol are going well?
I have never experienced anything like this before, where so many categories and SKU’s are selling well! We’re selling everything and anything! The non-alcoholic category is one that jumps out, followed by all the ingredients for making cocktails at home, for example Grenadine, sugar syrup, cocktail shakers etc.
Are you surprised by the boom in sparkling wine and champagne?
Yes I am. I believe with the introduction of “home schooling” more parents have found this category very useful. While I have tried to understand consumers changing habits over the years, I can’t pinpoint any other reason why this category has had such a spike except to also say, the romance and the intimacy of this category is perfectly timed with the pandemic!
How are you coping with the current restrictions in your area? What is the mood like?
I am fortunate that my Cellarbrations store is nestled in the Macedon Ranges which hasn’t been served the full impact of restrictions.We are also enjoying very low to zero active case numbers. Generally the mood of most people is quite good even though they are becoming politically frustrated and very forthcoming with their anger of the rules and regulations enforced upon them.
We have implemented all COVID safe practices including automated hand sanitiser, a full-length counter sneeze guard, social distancing signage, mask wearing signage and distancing markings on the floor.