- Words Maria Mukaranda
- Photography Vih Ferreira and Vinick Dias
- Featured Image Photography Sovereign Brands/Luc Belaire
Visionary entrepreneur and self-made success Brett Berish, who is the President & CEO of Sovereign Brands, reflects on his illustrious career so far.
Brett Berish, a visionary entrepreneur and the President & CEO of Sovereign Brands, has left an indelible mark on the wine and spirits industry. Renowned for launching and developing globally acclaimed brands like Luc Belaire and Bumbu, Brett’s journey reflects a commitment to pushing boundaries and defying industry norms. A family man with a zest for life, he juggles the roles of CEO and father of six – all whilst continuing to embody the spirit of self-made success through his brands and engaging interviews in Luc Belaire’s “Self Made Tastes Better” series.
In this interview, we dive into the visionary mind behind the brand, exploring how he turned a bold idea into a global phenomenon. From breaking industry norms with a Rose in a black bottle to creating the world’s largest bubbly, Belaire Zeus, Luc Belaire’s – and Brett Berish’s – journey exemplifies the essence of self-made success.
Luc Belaire has become a symbol of success for prominent artists and entrepreneurs. Was that always your vision for the brand?
When I first launched Belaire, I – of course – wanted it to be successful, in terms of how celebrated it was, and how prominent it could become as a brand. I wanted people to love it. But you never know how things will turn out, even when you 100% believe in your product. You have to listen to your fans, to the people who embrace the brand. It was only through looking at what was happening out there in the market, at how people were interacting with Belaire that we saw there was this link between celebration, achievement and our own tale of self made success. We were lucky to have a following of notable people in different fields from the very beginning – recording artists, sports people, creatives and content creators, who were marking their own self made success by celebrating with Belaire. They wanted the bottles for their studios, at album listening parties, they wanted to pop a 3 litre bottle to celebrate a particular milestone. I think they saw that we were doing something against the grain. Belaire looked (and still looks!) different to its competitors. We launched with a Rose in a black bottle – and everyone thought we were crazy. No one had done anything like that in Champagne or Sparkling before. We were breaking a lot of the “rules” around what premium products should look like, where they should be, what story they told. What we did was new, and it spoke to other brand builders and creatives. They saw that this was something unique…I always say you can’t buy cool, and you can’t – but we just have it!
How has that vision evolved?
In terms of the Self Made ethos, it evolved into our “Self Made Tastes Better” interview series where I chat to notable self made people. We started with Ross, Khaled, Post Malone, Wiz Khalifa, and then we built it out to include people who were making their mark in different arenas. I spoke to Post Malone when he only had ‘White Iverson’ out and recently spoke to Kid Super about his entry into the fashion industry and what he has going on. The conversations show me that no matter where you are in your journey there’s a story to be told and people appreciate connecting to that. Just because someone is successful now, doesn’t mean it hasn’t come without its challenges.
As a brand you’re very embedded in culture. How do you think your connection to hip-hop and music culture has helped establish your own niche, and establish the brand globally?
We’ve leaned into the people who love us. I had no preconceptions about who would buy our brands and where they would be successful. Most companies pay a tonne of money to curate these insights, but we never did any of that. We put the brands out there and then listened to the market and it told us where to go harder. Once Belaire started popping up in music videos globally, it was like a snowball effect – more and more artists wanted to have the brands in their content. People were doing this organically, and off the back of that we started looking at ways we could develop those relationships – and so those cultural ties to music and hip hop especially became stronger.
Sovereign Brands is known for creating powerful, resonant brands. What is your secret to developing brands that stand out and gain a dedicated following in a competitive industry?
I’m a brand builder first and foremost. Most companies our size have one brand. For us, we have a whole portfolio of successful brands, and while each of them is different, we have a large contingent of customers who drink more than one of them. People have become excited to try the entire range we offer, and are equally excited to see what we have coming next. I don’t think there’s another liquor company that has so many unique, successful brands and a fanbase that wants to try them all. The current portfolio includes Luc Belaire, a line of French sparkling wines, which has earned global acclaim for its exquisite taste and striking package, Bumbu, a line of rums that ranks among the world’s most critically acclaimed rums, McQueen and the Violet Fog, a Brazilian gin, Villon, a gorgeous French spiced liqueur, distilled and blended according to a unique, closely guarded family recipe and our newest release, The Deacon, a blended Scotch whisky. The secret to creating stand out brands? We do that in a number of ways, but the most important is to have a brand that tastes good and looks good. You can’t get someone to try your brand unless it looks good. And you can’t get them to come back if it doesn’t taste good. Our brands look different, they stand out on the shelf and in photos and videos – and that is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to things like social media, where you only have a split second to catch someone’s attention. Our bottles make statements, but they also back it up with what’s inside.
“Self Made Tastes Better” is a prolific marketing campaign by Sovereign Brands. Can you tell us more about this campaign and how it aligns with your values and culture?
All of the brands in our portfolio have challenged the industry somehow. Whether it’s the number of botanicals in McQueen and the Violet Fog being 21 instead of the usual 10 and being crafted in Brazil instead of the UK, Belaire Rose’s black bottle, or launching a blue sparkling, there’s this element of going against the status quo of things. I’ve taken a lot of risks, some paid off, some didn’t, but the majority did. I think a lot of people who are self made have had to ignore the noise and focus on what they believed was the right move – and what a great feeling it is when the bet you place on yourself pays off. Success feels that much better and tastes sweeter!
When that comes to company values and culture, I say to all my employees I don’t mind failing because it means we’re trying things, and the important thing is to learn. Go fail and learn something!
The “Self Made” series features interviews with celebrities and influencers who have paved their own path to success. What have you learned from these conversations?
I love to connect with people and “Self Made Tastes Better” allows me to do that in an authentic way. I get to really learn about them – their family, their history, their talents, the highs – but also their low moments, the rock bottom times when things were really rough. They’re the times that become character defining.
Of course, the long road to success means making lots of mistakes along the way. Selling our interest in one of our first successful brands was very difficult for me – our brands are like my kids. But what I’ve learned is that you have to have a short memory. Yesterday’s successes and failures are over, the only thing that matters is what you do now. It sounds like a cliché but being forward-thinking is so important.
Your brands have expanded to more than 100 countries globally. Can you share some insights into the challenges you’ve faced and overcome while growing your brands internationally?
There have been plenty of challenges. The financial crisis came at a scary time for our business – I wasn’t sure what would happen to us. But we had a good product, a good business model, and we came out OK. It was similar with COVID – lots of uncertainty, but we have done well despite that, because we have products that are high quality and in-demand.
We’re also operating in a saturated industry. But as crowded as the marketplace is – more every day – I still believe there are opportunities in every drinks category for innovative brands. There is no such thing as a category that is so “mature” that a great brand cannot succeed. My favourite thing in the world is coming up with new brands and we have tons of exciting things in the pipeline for 2024.
With such a diverse portfolio of brands, how do you approach creating unique and successful products in the wine and spirits industry?
We’ve never followed trends, which I think is a positive, but it is a reason why the industry has always doubted our brands. Our brands don’t look or taste like other products, and when you’re different there are always nay-sayers, but we don’t believe in introducing “the same old thing.” I have to feel like there is a meaningful difference between our brands and what’s already out there – otherwise what’s the point?
In the world of marketing and branding, you emphasize the importance of personal connections and organic endorsements. How have these principles contributed to the success of Sovereign Brands?
Organic endorsements are really important. Put simply, don’t underestimate the consumer. People know when a brand has simply paid someone to like their product. If it doesn’t seem real, it probably isn’t. A transactional relationship will only last as long as the contract stipulates, but a real one will go far beyond that and have greater impact.
Personal connections are what make our company stand out. I’m currently flying across the world to present the brands to our distributors in 30 plus markets, to be in meetings where brand owners wouldn’t usually be. I’m going to the bars that sell our products and I’m talking to the managers to share my enthusiasm for their great work. It pays off to make it personal.
Can you tell us more about the making of the world’s largest bottle of bubbly, Belaire Zeus? What inspired this project, and what impact do you think it will have on the brand?
As a company, we break boundaries and defy convention. Belaire ZEUS is an extension of that way of thinking. We wanted to bring something new to the table. A 45 Litre bottle of our iconic sparkling just seemed like the right next move!
We called it “ZEUS,” after the supreme ruler of the Greek gods. This bottle is seriously big – it’s the equivalent of 60 standard bottles of Belaire – the largest bottle of bubbly currently available in the world! It’s one meter (3.5 feet) in height and weighs 72.5kg (160 pounds) when full. So you can imagine what went into making it. It’s a masterpiece of metalworking, crafted by aerospace engineers. It’s made from steel which means it insulates and protects the wine from extreme temperature whilst also being practically unbreakable!
In terms of the impact it has on the brand, it’s all about maintaining innovation, moving forward, and bringing our fans something new. ZEUS is currently undertaking a global tour that started this year. The bottle is popping up at trade shows, clubs and events in multiple countries, so I intend on it being a continued talking point into 2024.
What’s next for Sovereign Brands, and what can we look forward to seeing from the “Self Made” series?
There are new brands in the pipeline so anyone looking to be the first to know should follow us on social. That’s where we launch news of our latest releases.
For Self Made, you can expect to see more interviews with great people across industries from around the world! We’ve got so many global markets to dig into – Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Portugal, Korea, Taiwan, Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda. The list goes on. We are literally only just getting started!
You’ve been recognised as one of the 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs by Goldman Sachs. What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to make their mark in the wine and spirits industry?
Trust your gut. I have an expression that I’ve shared with my team, “Consensus does not make for good ideas.” It’s something I would have liked to have learned earlier, but it comes with confidence and time. Just because something has been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done better!
How do you find inspiration and maintain a work-life balance while juggling the responsibilities of running a global wine and spirits company and a growing family?
I am a family man – I have six beautiful children and a fantastic wife, but I’m also the CEO of this growing business and I think you’ve got to have a zest for both of those things to give them all you’ve got. I will never tire of spending time with my family, but I’m equally motivated by my brands. Both things spur me on, both of them inspire me. How wonderful to be able to sit back with my family after a week’s hard work, sip on a chilled glass of Belaire or Bumbu, and appreciate my life.