The future for travel retail – especially for travellers looking to pick up a bottle or two of fine wine or whisky to max out their allowance – has never looked so bright.
Have you ever wondered about who curates the wines and spirits section in luxury travel retailer DFS? We have – we’ve always been curious about the thought processes that go behind the selection of products for its mind-boggling booze selection, which can range from special limited editions to exceedingly rare gems worthy of any collector’s collection.
Wonder no more – Brooke Supernaw is DFS’s Senior Vice President of Spirits Fine Tobacco Food and Gifts, and she works with her team to curate assortments for its global business across the five different product classifications.
Brooke’s role requires her to work with some of the best wine and spirits brands in the world on product selection and then launching them in a range of promotional events such as the first-ever Whiskey Festival back in 2017, the Craft Festival focusing on all things artisanal last year, or even special pop-ups like the one for Game of Thrones-branded whiskies.
She’s also the mastermind behind DFS’s Masters of Wines and Spirits, an annual event that brings together some of the most interesting and sought-after experiences that DFS has to offer, and where its most devoted customers can get an insight into what products are coming in the pipeline.
We sit down with Brooke (pictured) to ask her about the recent DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits, how they approach product selection, and the future of travel retail.
Tell us about the annual Masters of Wines and Spirits that happened earlier this year. How does it set the tone for Singapore’s travel retail – particularly in the realm of wines and spirits – for that year?
The DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits is really like no other event in the world where we bring together over 140 products from 60 different chateaus and distilleries under one roof and really introduce an incredible experience for our guests.
This is our eighth event of Masters of Wines and Spirits. This year it’s all about “masters at work” – it focuses on craft, and the crafters that are creating and producing and developing the beautiful whiskies and wines but also introducing other masters, such as the masters of music. I mean, what’s more beautiful than listening to a perfectly curated song as you’re drinking a glass of champagne or a glass of whisky? This year we’ve also introduced a master of cocktails, bringing in the highly respected Hidetsugu Ueno of Ginza, Tokyp’s Bar High Five to share with us on the art of making cocktails.
And then it comes down to the masters of curation; I’m honoured that it’s myself and my team that the products here are part of a very, very intense selection process to make sure that it meets our standards and qualifications that can exceed our guests’ expectations.
In recent years, the range of wines and spirits at travel retail has seen explosive growth in quantity and quality. Can you share with us any trends where you think travel retail is concerned?
There has been an explosion of growth in spirits and wine, and I’d say it’s more in the quality than necessarily the quantity. Part of our job is to select the brands and the products that we know the customers are seeking out and/or ones that we know they want to be introduced to because there is an element of surprise that we want to offer.
So I think one of the trends is quality versus quantity and drinking less but drinking better.
The other thing is that the big brands do play a significant role in the industry, as you can see from the recent DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits, where we celebrated the likes of The Macallan and Château Lafite Rothschild.
But one of the things we’re seeing customers really looking for is the smaller, more boutique brands. They could be the brands that may be growing in five to 10 years but are just starting to develop, or older brands that are just starting at looking to increase their awareness. Customers want to know their stories, they want to know the art behind it.
An ultra-rare Bunnahabhain 39YO whisky, a major highlight at DFS Masters of Wine and Spirits.
And that’s one of the reasons this year’s DFS Masters of Wines and Spirits was so exciting. We can not only work with major houses, but also showcasing discovering some of these smaller distilleries and chateaus and introducing them to our customers.
So I think in terms of trends, it’s quality, it’s boutique.
Of all these trends that you’ve mentioned, which categories do you think have seen the most growth and which do you think continue to have great potential?
The single malt category has seen the most growth over the past few years and will continue to see remarkable growth. It’s something we’ve really invested in both from space, some from assortment and from creating a proprietary concept that you’ll see in our stores at Changi Airport called the Whiskey House. It’s a shop within a shop that houses our whisky assortment, primarily focusing on single malts but not only dedicated to single malts.
It’s about identifying the different flavour profiles and the different customer profiles and matching them together. So if you’re a novice, these are the type of brands you may want. If you are a connoisseur or discovery, these are the type of the brands that you want.
Single malts to me is an area that will continue to grow and one we’re going to continue to invest in. The single cask program is one we’re going to continue to further develop, and it’s why you see the 13 single casks our team personally selected and bottled specifically for Masters of Wines and Spirits.
Can you share with us the process of how DFS works with various brands to create an exclusive travel retail expression? How long does the process usually take, what are the thought processes when you decide on such special offers?
Exclusives are at the heart of what we do at DFS. It’s a key priority to deliver unique items to our guests, whether it’s in spirits and wine, beauty, or watches. It’s really something we put our energy around because we know guests and customers want something unique and different. And it’s a competitive world in travel and retail; we get (the exclusives) and we know that customers will come into the stores.
We’re working on Masters of Wines and Spirits for next year and the following year; we’re working with our brand partners and challenging them as they’re challenging us to look for new fine and rare items. Because we have such strong partnerships with our brands, and over the years – there’s 55 years in DFS’s history! – we’ve really developed that trust and that understanding with them that we’re going to develop their brand and bring it to life in the way that they want to be done so in their stores.
The curation of that is a never-ending process; it’s something that we do continuously.
So partnerships play a very important role in the curation process?
Absolutely, partnerships are critical, partnerships with our brands, partnerships with our airport authorities. We partner with the Changi Airport Group for Masters of Wines and Spirits, and it wouldn’t be possible without them.
Then there’s the partnership with our customers – understanding our customers, engaging our customers with our loyalty program and finding out what they want and then delivering it. We can often curate what they’re looking for, whether it’s a special vintage or expression. That’s part of DNA of what we do.
Singapore customs recently reduced the travel retail allowance for travellers. So how do you think this will affect sales at DFS?
Yes, they did. We respect the decision of the Singapore government, and we look forward to continuing to serve our customers that come to Changi.
Last question – where do you think travel retail will be in the coming years?
Travel retail will continue to have a very robust position in retail. As customers look at shopping while they’re travelling, I think travel retail remains extremely relevant, whether it’s downtown gallerias or airports.
But as I mentioned earlier, we’re going to see more customers wanting exclusive items there and they want to have a sense of discovery. We have absolutely an opportunity in travel retail to deliver that.