DFS VP talks about how travel and duty free will continue to grow

Brooke Supernaw, DFS senior vice-president of Spirits, Wine and Tobacco, sheds light on the opportunities presented by an evolving travel retail scene

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As luxury markets waver, one segment continues to post steady growth: travel retail. Few are better to quiz about this phenomenon than Brooke Supernaw, the lady who’s wooed numerous leading wines and spirits brands to launch their products first at Singapore’s Changi Airport.

Q: Travel retail continues to be resilient despite a global slow down. What are the chief factors that contribute to that tenacity?

Despite changes in the economic status of the world, we continue to see strong growth with travellers. And while the mix of the travelers might change in terms of the customer demographic, there’s still an increase from most countries, especially from China where only 5 to 6 percent of the population currently has a passport.

For us in travel retail, this means we have an opportunity to capture them in the airport duty-free stores. When someone sets off on a trip, we see time and again that they are looking for an experience of discovery.

At DFS, we curate our experience as well as our wines and spirits collection around that thrill of discovery. When a traveller is passing through (the stores), for example, we engage them with our product through strong store designs at our Wines and Spirits Duplexes in Terminals 2 and 3, through strong promotions by guaranteeing the lowest price in Asia airports, and engaging sales associates who are well-trained and can take you through a blind whisky tasting on spot at our own The Whiskey House.

All of this evokes those feelings of surprise and delight that customers are demanding from their retailers when they shop today.

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Q: Do you think this success can be replicated outside of travel retail, and by which industries in particular?

I think if you look at a bit of the development of whisky bars and wine bars that specialise in product curation as well as cocktails, I think they’re recognising that a customer wants an experience in addition to just a glass of wine or a dram of whisky.

(At DFS’ stores), we respect brands’ DNA and heritage, and we’re able to tell that story inside our stores. For restaurants and bars there is also an opportunity to protect those brands and to tell their story through really strong bartenders or service.

Q: More specifically, which product classes can be expected to sustain high growth and interest through 2020, and in which regions?

I think our core classes of wines, Champagnes, Cognacs and whiskies will remain extremely relevant in terms of growth to 2020 and beyond.

If you look at the growth of Cognac, even with a very historical brand or sub-brands, who are celebrating their 300th or 250th anniversary, they continue to innovate, dare I say reinvent themselves, and always strive to understand how the customer is changing so they remain relevant.

Millennials are representing an even larger customer segment, which requires brands to tell their story in a new way that appeals to the shifting audience.

If you look just at what brands are trading well or what categories appeal to collectors, single malt whisky is very relevant in the market today and will continue to be so. If you see what some single malt whiskies are being sold for, it’s quite impressive.

And in wine, I would continue to watch Bordeaux as well as Napa Valley wines. You will continue to see collectors invest in that category, and not just for today, but going forward as well.

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Q: What’s the latest from DFS in these categories?

Here at DFS, we pride ourselves on curating a collection for Masters of Wines and Spirits full of  true collectables that would compete and even have the same calibre of items at a Christie’s or Sotheby’s.

In this year’s collection, we have from The Macallan, the Fine and Rare Treasury Collection, a beautiful collection of 30 5cl mini bottles from vintages across 35 years created exclusively for DFS. Another piece, The Dalmore 50 Years Old is celebrating Master Distiller Richard Paterson’s 50 years in the whisky industry and is available for sale for the first time by a retailer.

Also available at Masters of Wines and Spirits is a second launch of The Balvenie David Charles Stewart Compendium, a series of five extremely rare vintage single malt whiskies and a testament to the industry’s longest-serving Malt Master – David Stewart.

Q: When it comes to travel retail exclusives do you have any tips for a collector or investor to get the jump on certain products?

From a single malt whisky perspective there is such a wide range of brands, and what’s been fun recently are brands which they call ‘closed distilleries’ that have found barrels that they bring out for extremely limited release. Once it’s sold, it’s gone forever.

Here at Masters of Wines and Spirits, we have a single malt set from Karuizawa, a distillery built in 1955 west of Tokyo, but has since closed.  They haven’t produced whisky in nearly 20 years and had several barrels left which they’ve bottled exclusively for Masters of Wines and Spirits in beautiful crystal decanters, so those are unique items.

Japanese whisky is still incredibly hot with collectors right now, and we have debuting for the first time outside Japan, Hibiki’s 35 Year Old Arita-Yaki and Kutani-Yaki. A blend of carefully selected malt whiskies ages 35 to 54 years, the bottles were created in collaboration with renowned porcelain artisans from Arita and Kutani in Japan.

In the world of wine, I think Bordeaux wines remain a great investment, the only difficult part is not to enjoy them and drink them in the moment. I actually always recommend those looking to invest to buy two bottles, one to enjoy and one to collect.

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Q: How does increasing intra-China spending affect the DFS Group?

It’s well known that there is a definite re-patronisation of spending back into China and of course China wants to promote their own retail, whether it’s wines and spirits or fashion and watches, and so they’re taking action to do so. But again the travelling public from China continues to increase, with more customers from second- and even third-tier cities travelling further afield… so our role … is to recognize the changes of the customer and create an experience that caters to their desires.

When people travel, they are looking for something new, something that reflects where they’ve been. At DFS we pride ourselves on bringing customers products that are exclusive to travel retail or exclusive to DFS, because they are not going to find those in China.

For example, here at DFS, Singapore Changi Airport we have an entire program dedicated to launching the world’s best wines and spirits first with DFS at Changi. And with over 240 wines and spirits brands available in store, they are sure to discover something with DFS they won’t find anywhere else.

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Story originally appeared on The Peak.

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