Minnesota’s spirits scene is young, but very promising. With the number of innovative bar programs and mixologists, and the ever growing list of microdistilleries, our spirits scene is becoming a real source of pride. But What will it take for Minnesota to become known as a world-class spirits state? We asked four members of the industry to tap into their expertise and share their perspectives.
The Growler: As a retailer that sees what consumers are bringing home, what can Minnesota’s distillers do to be become more recognizable on the shelves and sought after in liquor stores?
Melissa Surdyk, Surdyk’s Liquor & Cheese Shop: As Minnesota distillers continue to try and gain a stronger foothold in the very competitive distilled spirits category, from a retail standpoint, three areas stand out when thinking about what distillers must do to capture customers, sales, and share of market.
What we hear from customers most frequently is “What does this taste like, have you tried it, what do you think?” This can sometimes be difficult to answer with small-scale distilleries selling their product batch by batch. Once a customer tries a particular spirit and likes it, there is an expectation that future purchases of that spirit will have the same taste and quality as the first. For any distillery, and especially microdistilleries, product consistency is of utmost importance.
Retailers also look to distilled spirit producers who have a plan for getting consumers to try their product, and instructing them how to consume it. Whether it’s giving distillery tours, doing in-store samplings at retail locations, or participating in spirit tasting events around the state, those distillers who work hard at sampling and promotion have marked sales results off retail shelves.
There is the adage, “Create a buzz.” Successful small production distillers know how to create a buzz through branding, whether it’s unique, clever packaging, storytelling, and/or product nuance that separates it from the rest of the competition. However, what’s most important here is the communication of the message. Those that have an integrated social media plan, since this is one of the lowest costs of communication, create sales results for which retailers really desire and admire.
The Growler: What changes to current legislation would help Minnesota grow its spirits presence?
Lee Egbert, 11 Wells Spirits and Dashfire Bitters: Each distillery has their own items that would benefit them most, but amending the current law restricting on-site bottle sales at distilleries to “one bottle per customer per day” by adding the two simple words “by product” would be very significant for almost all of Minnesota’s distilleries.
It’s partly a matter of fairness. Not only can a brewery sell multiple growlers of one of its beers to a customer in the same visit, but that customer can also buy more that one style at a time. Why distilleries can’t do the same is hard to understand especially since we are already limited to only selling half-size, 375-milliliter bottles.
As distillers, we do not want to replace the local liquor store—in fact they are some of our best advocates—but when a customer comes for a tour and wants to purchase the spirits that went into the cocktail they’ve just enjoyed in the cocktail room, I think it should be possible. A lot of customers get annoyed with this fact especially since cocktails are how the majority of spirits are consumed. We certainly do feel their pain. It would really help our local industry to make it easier for customers to buy when they want to buy it.
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