Virtual Event The New Normal - Impact of COVID-19 on the drinks industry

Learnings from a pandemic
November 2, 2020
By Ioni Doherty

Improved communication, e-commerce and mental health programs are just three of the learnings that drinks businesses will be taking with them beyond the pandemic, when that time eventually comes.

At The Embrace Council’s webinar last Wednesday, The New Normal, facilitated by Sally Byrne, Coca-Cola Amatil’s General Manager – Coffee, Byrne suggested that the strong response to the event signalled a craving within the industry to understand how competitors had adapted to the pandemic, the learnings from the year that has been and what companies would carry with them in the months ahead.

There was a pervading sense of optimism from the panellists as they reflected how quickly teams had mobilised when lockdown first hit and demand for product surged.

Louise Cooper, Legal & Risk Manager, Coopers Brewery, is on the Coopers COVID-19 Response Team and recalled how quickly the IT and OHS teams mobilised and production and sales teams were segregated to ensure that production could continue.

She also talked about the sudden surge in demand and subsequent pressure on the business to respond to the demand for product.

“It happened so quickly, sales reps were packing orders,” she said.

Cooper sat on the panel with Sarah Parkes, Director Independents, On Premise and Field Sales, Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) and Eric Thomson, Chief Marketing Officer, Pernod Ricard.

Parkes was fresh from 100 days of lockdown and her relief could be felt, even on Zoom. Parkes’ job has changed dramatically this year. In 2019 she went on 58 domestic flights; 2020: not one since March.

Parkes suggested that TWE’s strong reputation and relationships had been crucial for the business: “We’ve leaned on our relationships and I believe that we are in good stead for next year.”

Not least because there will be an extra million Australia’s grounded here over summer, suggesting that the sales momentum over Christmas will continue right through until February and March. All three panellists shared agreed that the festive season looks very strong.

All agreed that the improved and frequent communication across all levels of business brought about since the pandemic arrived, would continue into the future. For Eric Thomson, the weekly ‘state of the business’ presentations from the leadership team would be “kept in place” as the Pernod Ricard leadership team has observed a real “hunger for frequent touchpoints”.

“A voice from senior leadership is essential,” agreed Parkes.

Of course, TWE was in a unique position having welcomed a new CEO into the fold in mid-July. Parkes said that in fact, this was a good opportunity for the business as a whole to re-focus and recalibrate.

When it comes to flexibility and working from home, all agreed that the physical office space is and will be indispensable, but that flexible working and working hours are here to stay. There is also an expectation that travel will be reduced, given how comfortable we are now with Zoom , Teams and seeing ourselves on our screens.

Parkes said, “I would not expect travel to return to pre-Covid levels but it is hard to replace face to face meetings.”

Mental health has been a huge focus for businesses with all observing that their mental health counselling lines had experienced an increase in demand. This has led to businesses educating team leaders on the signs to look out for and raising consciousness within their workforces about checking-in with colleagues regularly.

TWE has reframed “sick leave” during this time.

“Wellness leave is available for mental and physical health. It is not just for ‘visible’ illness. This has raised the conversation around mental wellness and that we must check in with each other more regularly. I am proud of my company’s leadership here,” said Parkes.

Similarly, Eric Thomson is proud of Pernod Ricard for resourcing the mental health program, for training managers and for ensuring the psychological safety of its people

Cooper believes that Coopers’ anonymous HR platform is indispensable. The company has received powerful feedback and gleaned important insights as their people respond to fortnightly questions about how they are tracking.

Rapid innovation has been experienced like never before with all three panellists describing the tenacity and urgency in bringing events and products to life in the digital space and improving e-commerce platforms to support customer demand.

The outlook for Christmas is positive with the great hope that on-premise customers will benefit during the season of celebration as well.

Virtual Event
The New Normal - Impact of COVID-19 on the drinks industry
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