White Rock Distilleries has had a lot of success with its Pinnacle Vodka line, which is often credited with starting the dessert flavor phenomenon. Whipped remains its top flavor, backed by Cherry Whipped, Chocolate Whipped, Orange Whipped and Whipped Key Lime. Other recent flavor innovations include Atomic Hots, Cookie Dough and Gummy. Their unflavored, flagship Pinnacle 80 proof remains the top seller, however, with volumes up over 20% a year, White Rock president Bill Dabbelt recently told WSD. But there is more to the Pinnacle story and the company as well. Here's what else Bill said as you, dear reader, are a fly on the wall:
WINE & SPIRITS DAILY: What is your strategy with Pinnacle Vodka moving forward?
BILL DABBELT: We continue to expand our sales team because we're still a relatively small company with a relatively small team throughout the country. We also need to continue to increase our advertising efforts. We just started our first television advertising campaign this year, and we're very excited about that. The feedback has been very positive and very successful, and we need to expand on that. We need to expand our budgets where it's possible to do so. We're always open to new ideas for new flavors, too.
WSD: Are you planning on expanding into other categories?
BILL: Well, we already have Pinnacle Gin. We would consider it. We don't have anything currently, but it's an interesting concept and it's worth studying.
WSD: What's next in flavors?
BILL: Atomic Hots is new. We're going to launch Pineapple, Peach and Blackberry this year. We're also looking at seasonal flavors, limited edition. We think we've built a really strong following with the Pinnacle brand - a lot of brand loyalty, brand equity. So we think our odds for success are very high.
WSD: Are there still distribution opportunities out there for Pinnacle?
BILL: Yes, that's why we need additional sales personnel. We need to hire additional people and of course that takes money and budgets also. But yeah, there's a lot of areas where we're still underdeveloped. National accounts, on-premise, and certain chain accounts and large retail accounts are still underdeveloped in parts of the country. Internationally, we're completely underdeveloped.
WSD: What is your on to off-premise ratio?
BILL: We're about 15% on-premise and that varies by region. It was about 3% three years ago, so our on-premise has really taken off in the last 18 months.
WSD: Is that Whipped or everything?
BILL: Whipped has been a leading catalyst for that growth.
WSD: How is Calico Jack doing?
BILL: Calico Jack is an exciting brand. It's almost three brands within the brand because we have the 70-proof spiced version, we have the 42- proof flavored version, and we have the 94-proof spiced version. All three segments are growing nicely, but the biggest growth is coming from the 42-proof flavors. Those are in a frosted bottle, a very premium presentation.
WSD: What's popular with the rum flavors?
BILL: The Coconut is the number one seller. It's followed up by the Pineapple and Cherry, and some of the newer type flavors like Cake and Whipped. We've added those recently.
WSD: Tell me about El Charro Tequila.
BILL: El Charro is a very new brand for us, and we're excited about it. We think it's a very premium proposition for the consumer, yet a somewhat affordable price point that the consumer is looking for today. We're targeting a $15.99 shelf price for the Silver. It's 100% agave.
WSD: It seems like nowadays you almost have to do the 100% agave.
BILL: That's our feelings exactly.
WSD: What about Chocolate Valley Vines?
BILL: Chocolate Valley is a really exciting project for us. We've had some really good regional successes and we're looking forward to expanding that. We're also adding flavors: Whipped, Raspberry and Strawberry.
WSD: Are you targeting regular wine drinkers or chocolate lovers with that brand?
BILL: We're targeting primarily a grocery store shopper and primarily female. It's really a more grocery and wine orientated shopper.
WSD: What are some of your biggest challenges as a company?
BILL: I think one of the biggest challenges we always face is being a relatively small company that is dominated by global giants. That makes it more difficult to compete at the distribution level. But that also creates opportunity because we are small and nimble. We can react quicker, and we have less constraints. While it's an obstacle, we use it to our advantage as best as we can.
WSD: Are you still seeing price competition in the US spirits business?
BILL: That's a really good question, Megan. There is definitely still price competition with many companies and brands trying to enter the vodka category and trying to compete. At one point we were one of those hungry brands, so we understand that. However, we feel strongly that we're building tremendous brand equity and loyalty with Pinnacle as a premium import from France. Our goal is to continue to invest in advertising and people, and support our key customers to maintain that brand image and growth.
We're very excited about the future of the brand because the category is growing 6% a year, and it's the largest category by far. In spirits, vodka is growing faster and larger each year in volume than any other category. We don't see that trend stopping or slowing down anytime soon. We feel that we've carved a lead position within the US market, and we're very confident the power of the brand will help maintain that position.
WSD: Would you ever look at bourbon?
BILL: We would never say no to any concept, so it's a wonderful idea and yes we agree bourbon is a very healthy category, very exciting.
WSD: Are you seeing an uptick at the on-premise?
BILL: Yes, we're definitely seeing very consistent reports around the country that the on-premise is recovering and growing. That's good new for everyone in the industry.
WSD: Thank you for your time.
WORKER EXODUS FROM STATE LIQUOR STORES IN WA
Although the deadline for state-run liquor stores to close in Washington isn't until June 1, many employees of the state are jumping ship early. The early exodus could force some state stores to close ahead of schedule, reports The Seattle Times. Human-resources director of the LCB Clarice Nnanabu said about 10 workers are leaving a week and the agency has been hiring temporary workers, but the closer to June it gets the more difficult this has become. "They find out it's six or seven weeks, and they're not interested," Clarice said. "We're not getting people who are willing to work for that short of time without benefits." However, spokesman for the agency Brian Smith said that the employees leaving before June was always expected and they have discussed consolidating stores soon.
W.J. DEUTSCH JOINS SOUTHERN IN MINNESOTA. W.J. Deutsch & Sons has appointed Southern Wine & Spirits in Minnesota, giving them exclusive distribution rights to their entire portfolio. The agreement was effective April 12. Recall that in September Deutsch also signed a distribution and brokerage agreement with Southern across the Pacific Northwest in addition to its current agreement in 12 other markets.
SOUTHERN APPOINTS NORTHWEST GM. Southern Wine & Spirits has named Bret Rupert to the position of vp, general manager for the Northwest Brokerage. He will oversee the following markets: Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Bret previously managed the Mountain States for the Southern Spirits West Brokerage.
NEW FLAVORS FROM THREE OLIVES. The makers of Three Olives Vodka, Proximo, have released two new flavors: Loopy (fruit loops/tropical fruit) and Super Cola (cola). They're hitting shelves as we write this.
UTAH DABC UNDER FIRE AGAIN. The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is being audited yet again and may include additional damaging information. The Auditor General for the state will perform the investigation, and ABC reported it will zero in on inventory issues in warehouses and public stores. One source suggested this may be the worst DABC audit yet.
ALBERTSONS SHUTS THE DOORS ON 13 STORES. Due to increasing costs and the sustained tough economy, Albertsons is closing 13 stores and one distribution center in Florida. The decision will leave only four stores open and could possibly displace up to 1,100 employees, reported Progressive Grocer.
CORRUPTION IN THE D.C. ALCOHOL INSPECTOR OFFICE. A story from last November has come to light as a District alcoholic-beverage-control inspector in D.C. used his office to get free liquor and preferential treatment at a nightclub. Jermaine Matthews, the accused inspector, has said he was at the club in a "working capacity," but the inspector general concluded he doctored a log to make it appear as if he was working when he was at the club for personal reasons, reported The Washington Post. The Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration will be conducting an investigation into the matter.
Until tomorrow, Megan
"Too much of anything is bad, but too much of good whiskey is barely enough."
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