Standing on the shoulders of giants: pulling consumer attention away from social media

3 July 2018



While a lot has been written on the importance of consumer engagement in all facets of packaging, the beverage industry highlights the importance of reaching an audience that are increasingly distracted by social media. Brett Berish, CEO of Sovereign Brands, has consistently released leading brands that have held their own in a market dominated by global players. Beverage Packaging Innovation hears what it takes to lead the leaders.


If a company is going to get ahead in the fast-paced multimedia and socially networked modern alcoholic beverages market, two core requirements are a compelling story and a message. Sovereign has both in spades, or to be more accurate – ‘Ace of Spades’. “Where our brands start is the liquid inside,” Brett Berish, CEO of Sovereign Brands, says, adding that he had not originally intended on celebrity endorsements in the process of launching Brignac. Instead, he says he spent the early-2000s establishing relationships with the prominent French families who have made Champagne in the country’s North-Eastern region for centuries. After connecting with the Cattier family, which owned the Armand de Brignac name, Sovereign launched a new, premium champagne in a distinctive gold bottle.

Sovereign state of mind

Since that 2006 success, the Berish brothers have continued launching brands to instant adoration. Their current flagship product, the Luc Belaire line of sparkling wines, began in 2012 with a rosé sold in a black bottle for $30–50.

Throughout 2013–17, sales increased 556%, making it the third-largest French sparkling wine brand, behind only Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot.

Sales of Luc Belaire grew 53% in 2017, versus 17% for Prosecco in the US. Meanwhile, Sovereign’s new rum, Bumbu, is growing at an annual clip of 236%. “What makes Luc Belaire and Bumbu successful is that they fit into the affordableluxury niche,” says Mike Housey, vicepresident of distributor Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. “They appeal to consumers of all demographics and really engage influencers on the ground level.”

How these brands are created is less specific. Berish acknowledges the importance of social media and celebrity endorsements in marketing. “Our distributors have thousands of brands and we are a small company, so with every brand we have to do the selling,” he says. “We have to do things differently to stand out from international companies. We are good at connecting with an audience and making sure that they feel the sense of joy and maverick spirit we bring to each of our brands.”

We have no hobbies, we love what we do and it is just about building great brands.

Rumming in the family

When asked about the origins of Sovereign, Berish explains his deep roots within the industry. “We’re a familyowned company – my brother and I started it in the late ’90s and our father serves as our chairman. We have history in the wine and spirits business – our father was the chairman at Jim Beam for more than 25 years. I did not actually work in the industry, but all we talked about growing up was my father’s business, so it was a natural fit for me. The goal was the same as it is today: to create brands that are better than anything on the marketplace.”

“In our industry, the big guys keep getting bigger so the consumer is constantly seeing major million-case brands out there. So many wonderful small families like ours are producing fantastic products and you rarely hear about them. Our focus is to develop a product with our partners that we think can capture an audience in search for something unique.”

For Berish, first and foremost, it’s the liquid. Still, it has to work together with the packaging. He combs the world in search of family partners who can produce a truly exceptional product. The next step is to design everything in-house, from the product name to the packaging. Each week, 60 employees convene to taste new concoctions and brainstorm names and packaging design before deciding what will ultimately resonate with their audience. Bouncing ideas around friends and family is an organic approach to creating a successful brand, in place of overthinking it.

Though they have a proven track record of developing brands that are later acquired by larger companies, Berish asserts that they never entered the industry thinking they were going to sell up. “We have no hobbies, we love what we do and it is just about building great brands. “

Sail of the century

“We believe what we have is better than anyone else and customers can taste it. That’s where we win. I want to feel like I’ve found something special, then consumers feel like they’ve discovered it and they want to talk about it.” For its latest project, Bumbu Rum, Sovereign applied its wine knowledge to the rum category. Just as grapes are to wine, Bumbu rum is culled from sugar cane from eight countries that have a unique flavour to each location. Bumbu Rum is an authentic recreation of a Caribbean legend, made using a recipe for the original ‘Bumbu’ made by West Indian sailors of the 16th and 17th century.

Put a cork in it

Visually, it distinguishes itself from other bottles on the shelf with an ‘X’ logo drawing customers’ attention from across the room. The 750ml bottle for Bumbu has a pewter ‘X’ on the front, with details of the natural flavours along with the proof statement. A gilded map of the Caribbean is provided on the back of the bottle to draw consumers into the brand’s story. The natural cork with an ‘X’ across the top is secured to the bottle with a clear security wrap.

Labels are a critical part of the packaging and success of Sovereign, as Berish happily admits, “We need to be creative in how we engage with our customers and stand out from competition. Outside of the liquid, the packaging needs to highlight our unique and dynamic ethos, our stories, and allow our customers to be excited about the brand – to share it with their friends on social media. The package and the label need to stand out, even if it’s a photo of the product being shared, so that it is discernible.”

Fresh drinks of Belair

Following the global success of the luminescent Belaire label, Luc Belaire has expanded the glowing concept to feature the faces of global music superstars.

To launch the range, Belaire Fantôme bottles featuring hip-hop superstar Rick Ross, Grammy-nominated DJ Steve Aoki and the inimitable DJ Khaled are to be rolled out to nightclubs and bars around the world, delivering a unique take on Belaire’s relationship with first-class talent and cementing the brand’s reputation for innovation. Each label lights up at the touch of a button – simply turn off the lights and hit the power switch underneath the bottle.

Each of Belaire’s cuvées is represented in the characteristically opulent #BelaireFantome Series:

  •  Luc Belaire Rosé x Rick Ross:

Belaire’s signature Rosé meets multi-Grammy nominated hip-hop mogul Rick Ross, who has been a fan since the brand’s inception.

  • Luc Belaire Gold x Steve Aoki:

Belaire Gold’s effortlessly elegant blend can now be enjoyed in its limited edition Belaire Fantôme design featuring Grammy-nominated DJ Steve Aoki.

  • Luc Belaire Luxe x DJ Khaled:

DJ Khaled’s love for Belaire Luxe is well documented on his social media. Fans can now purchase this authentic French Blanc de Blancs, made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes.

The new-look Belaire Fantôme bottles pay homage to Belaire’s sizeable network of global brand ambassadors, which includes over 200 recording artists, DJs and athletes. As the series develops, more international stars will be introduced with limited edition designs.

What’s up next for Sovereign? A gin is set to debut this autumn. “We only compete in categories that we think we can improve.”

Eye-catching graphics and glow in the dark labels encourage customers to feel like they are really part of an exclusive, new-found, high-quality product that they have to share with friends, on- and offline.

Best of the best

With a compelling company and brand narrative unique to each of its products, Sovereign is set to continue its rule and excel in all of the categories it participates in.

There are important lessons in how a small company can continue to compete in a crowded market category, against the odds and resources of some incredibly large international players. This is perhaps why Brett Berish was featured recently in a Forbes article, and is consistently referenced – with his brother and father – for his superb management of the Sovereign brand. The core of Sovereign and its subsidiary, as aforementioned, is the requirement to take the best possible liquid, put it in the best possible packaging and thoroughly engage customers and the market with outstanding labels and aesthetics.

Armand de Brignac – the brand that started it all.


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