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Can luxury vodka become green?

Belvedere Vodka’s CEO-president Rodney Williams on making the alcohol brand eco-conscious and learnings from the pandemic

Vodka’s muted flavour has made it a go-to white spirit for cocktails.
Vodka’s muted flavour has made it a go-to white spirit for cocktails. (Unsplash)

Rodney Williams, the president and chief executive officer of Belvedere Vodka, is on a mission. He wants to make the super-premium alcohol brand “green”.

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Few weeks ago, Belvedere launched “Made With Nature”, a campaign dedicated to ensuring that the brand is able to produce green energy, organic product and sustainable packaging.

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In an interview with Mint, Williams talks about the steps the brand is taking to be more eco-conscious, learnings from the pandemic and why vodka is “definitely not a tasteless spirit”. Edited excerpts:

Rodney Williams says consumers today are more discerning than ever about brands they consume. They are interested in drinking less but better.
Rodney Williams says consumers today are more discerning than ever about brands they consume. They are interested in drinking less but better. (Courtesy Belvedere Vodka)

How do you define sustainable?

There are many benchmarks, standards, and definitions of “sustainability” across the globe. I believe it has to do with a commitment to transparency, traceability and accountability. Our DNA is inspired by our simple process, which comes from an over 600-year Polish vodka making tradition: Polish rye, purified water, and distilled by fire—nothing else.

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What steps are you taking to become a green brand?

Belvedere’s distillery has a long history in supporting the Polish community with sustainability initiatives. It co-founded the Foundation for Local Environmental Protection, and only sources its Polish rye grains locally, working to nurture long-term relationships with Polish agricultural sources. We have driven strong progress towards our 2020 environmental targets. From 2012-17, the brand cut energy CO2 emissions by 42%, and in 2018, it was the first spirits distillery to receive a grant from the European Commission to help pilot an aggressive energy project.

We are now taking some bold steps to address environmental topics. Specifically, we are working in three key areas. The first is about mitigating our climate impact. We have installed at our distillery a biomass capture facility that will allow us being energy carbon neutral by the end of 2022, producing 100% renewable energy. The second area is about nourishing the ecosystem. We are certified to produce organic and all new product innovations will reflect this new standard beginning this year. We are also working on reducing our water consumption as well as promoting regenerative agriculture practices among Polish farmers.

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Finally, we want to keep engaging with our society and the communities around us. Right now, we are working on a restoration program to safeguard the Polish natural environment and in the coming years we will contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of our home city of Żyrardów, by supplying to the city’s power network the green energy produced at the distillery.

India is largely a whiskey drinking nation. How are you planning to capture this market?

There’s one thing that whisky and Belvedere drinkers have in common and that is true appreciation for taste and craftmanship. We have always championed taste and this comes from rye.

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Vodka’s muted flavor once made it a go-to white spirit for cocktails. With the evolution of the craft spirits, however, vodka seems to have lost its identity. Global surveys even show that millennials’ and post-millennials were more interested in consuming wine during the lockdown. Do you believe vodka is losing its charm, especially among the younger population?

We’ve always been in fundamental disagreement that vodka is a muted, flavourless, or neutral spirit. Instead, we celebrate our natural credentials as a clear point of difference: zero additives and simple ingredients, expertly crafted into vodka with distinct taste and character. Our precious Polish rye is a superior grain with ancient roots, whose rich taste tells the story of Polish terroir. Our master rye distillers draw out rye's exceptional flavour—think about it as the difference between white bread and rye bread. That taste distinction is just as clear in vodka. Vodka is definitely not a tasteless spirit.

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Given the pandemic, is Belvedere changing its tack in any way?

The pandemic has humbled us all in regard to the power of nature and humankind’s need to find ways to live in harmony with it. I think coming out of this global crisis will be a renewed and elevated effort to promote nature in our behaviours, product choices and consumption priorities in ways we had not conceived of as possible just a few years ago.

Any learnings from the pandemic?

The pandemic accelerated a trend we already saw coming and consumers are willing to listen given the past year. Consumers, now more than ever, are concerned with what they put in their bodies and how it impacts the environment. Artificial additives are out. The quality movement is in and continues to influence new trends in vodka and spirits in general.

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Consumers today are more discerning than ever about brands they consume. They are interested in drinking less but better. They search for facts, consumption options and want to be inspired by the brands they favour. At the same time, consumers across the globe are also carefully following how brands react, give back, and operate, especially during hard times.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    23.07.2021 | 12:44 AM IST

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