|THE NEW CELEBRITY-BACKED VODKA IS ONE-OF-A-KIND
Call Voli a new kind of French paradox: a delicious vice that should be “bad” for you but somehow ends up possibly being good for you.
Produced in France, the vodka’s placement in the trendiest venues and the fact that it’s in arguably the most social of the spirits category should wave a cautionary flag. But the vodka’s lower calories and alcohol by volume help nudge it toward a more virtuous path. So, just as the French drink their red wines and eat their brie and croissants and enjoy good health, so might vodka drinkers have their vitality along with their vices.
The new and only entrant of its kind in the category, Voli has the potential to capture not only the young, calorie- and health-conscious consumer group, but to be a game-changer in the previously untapped market of calorie-conscious spirits. However, the journey is not without a few challenges says Adam Kamenstein, the Los Angeles–based CEO of Voli Light Vodkas.
Voli as style setter: The Ingenue, a Voli-based cocktail at A-list nightspot Drai’s Hollywood in Los Angeles, is a drink that’s high on style and low in calories—perfect for the aspiring actress or supermodel.
“Even though we’re not just another vodka, that’s still how we’re initially perceived by some buyers,” he says. “People’s initial reaction was ‘Who needs another one?’ So, we needed to clearly communicate that we are a vastly differentiated brand and not another ‘me-too product.’ We are, in fact, pioneering a new spirits category for which there is extraordinary consumer demand. We are at the forefront of a mega-trend. ”
To help do that, the brand recently enlisted two of the entertainment industry’s hot, bright stars: Black Eyed Peas chanteuse Fergie and Latin rapper Pitbull, both of whom are investors in Voli. The mono-named celebrities bring multi-dimensions to the brand with their energy and sex appeal across a wide demographic.
“Fergie and Pitbull go beyond the celebrity endorsement: They represent a lifestyle for the brand and they both really wanted to be part of something new,” says Erin Harris, Voli’s Chief Marketing Officer.
The Social Network
Another reason to tap the celebs? Their ability to reach and influence vast audiences through social media. Together they boast more than 22.9 million Facebook likes and more than 4.2 million followers on Twitter. And harnessing that power is a key communications strategy for the brand.
“When you compare the velocity of getting the message out via digital media, even compared to TV, it’s so much faster and more direct,” Harris says. Kamenstein agrees: “Their reach is extraordinary, and their voices are so loud, they can cut through the cacophony. Who else can instantly let 4.5 million people know there’s a delicious cocktail on the menu at our best customers.”
If Fergie attracts young women, Pitbull provides the counterbalance with his large audience of young men. Kamenstein says the brand needed an “iconically masculine figure so as not to alienate males. We didn’t want to be the Secret deodorant of the spirits space,” he jokes. The rapper’s ardent Latino following helps Voli’s position with the fastest-growing consumer demographic in the country.
Numerous other celebs have been spotted with Voli—from Jay-Z and Pete Wentz to Valerie Bertinelli and Julianne Hough. The celebrity alignment helps propel the brand—but, say Voli execs, the product stands on its own, and bar managers agree.
At David Burke’s Kitchen in New York City, Beverage Manager Connor Burke says form without substance doesn’t even get in the door. “The price or the gimmicks don’t matter,” he says. “For me, when you have a name like ours to live up to, always the first thing is the quality has to be there, especially with vodkas.”
Filling a Market Gap
Voli’s strategy of marrying tradition, taste, trend, innovation and a previously unmet demand for low-calorie vodka all in one bottle, gives the upstart brand a unique position. The team is confident that what Miller Lite did for the beer category nearly 40 years ago, Voli will do for spirits.
It was that gap in the adult beverage market that caused Kamenstein, 41, to create the spirit. As the family cook and food shopper, he noticed the grocery store shelves contained hundreds of options for the calorie conscious in most goods—except spirits.
“It occurred to me there really wasn’t a single category that hadn’t evolved over the past 40 years to offer a low-cal option. I could get that in salad dressings, potato chips, ice creams and juices, but there was nothing on the shelf in the spirits section that offered consumers a choice.”
He decided to change that. A former federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s office, Kamenstein wanted to return to business, a career he’d had before turning to law. But his timing wasn’t exactly fortuitous: He had newborn twins and a new mortgage during the worst economy in 100 years.
“I always wanted to build something, and my thinking was, if I didn’t do it then, I’d only have bigger obligations as time went on, and I didn’t want to look back on my life and regret that,” he says. Down economy notwithstanding, he launched Voli Spirits LLC in 2008 and, in the spirit of “if you build it, they will come,” set out to find his market and the sources to bring the product to fruition.
Craftsmanship and Quality
Kamenstein sought a variety of original and fresh aromas as well as a quality process. When his stateside search failed to yield the right producer, he turned to the great blending houses of Cognac, striking partnerships with venerable cognac, liqueur and spirits houses.
“Cognac has producers who have been blending for generations. I believed they had the craftsmanship and capability to produce the quality I was looking for—even though it is a completely modern product.”
After two years of development, he launched with a base expression “Lyte” (now renamed “Original”) and four infusions: Lemon, Espresso-Vanilla, Orange-Vanilla and Raspberry-Cocoa. Made from French Superior wheat, Voli uses natural spring water and leverages its electrolyte formula to enhance the implied well-being benefits. The multi-distilled and filtered spirit is presented in a custom frosted glass bottle.
Alone in the Field
Since its market launch last April, the spirit has enjoyed explosive growth,with triple-digit growth in New York, Florida and California. Key accounts include Darden Concepts, CRO and off-premise retailers such as Sam’s Club, Costco, Bevmo and Total Wine. Voli will launch a Mango-Coconut infusion in May.
Marketing will be supported by extensive out-of-home and national print advertising, strategic partnerships, social media platforms and interactive geo-targeting blog that advises consumers about events in their city in real time. Palm Bay International, which distributes Voli, is working with on-premise partnerships to create “skinny” menus and cocktail programs.
Harris isn’t worried about getting lost in the vodka clutter. “When the retailer and the consumer understand that we are not another vodka, we stand alone in the field,” she says. “We look at no other brand as competitor or peer.”
Black Eyed Peas singer and brand investor Fergie strikes a sassy pose with the Voli bottle.
Take Five: Fergie Dishes on Voli
What attracted you to the Voli brand?
I’m all about staying fit but having fun at the same time, so the brand really spoke to my lifestyle. As the first ever low-calorie spirit, I was instantly interested. So, of course, I had to try it—and it was love at first sip! Who wouldn’t love Voli? It’s better-tasting and has one-third fewer calories!
How will you be involved with the company brand image?
As an owner, I will be involved in every facet of the brand. We did a photo shoot recently with the amazing photographer Russell James where I really wanted to visually capture the brand message: fabulous, fun and fit. The images from the photo shoot will be used in the first phase of the campaign and are already on billboards, magazines and the web all over the country.
In what way(s) does Voli fit your lifestyle and your own “brand” image?
I live by the motto “play hard and work hard.” Voli allows me to go out for a night with my girls and wake up the next day without feeling guilty. I am all about finding a healthy mix between fun and taking care of yourself. That is exactly what Voli stands for too.
How do you see Voli breaking new ground?
Voli is a game-changer. It is the solution for women who want it all and aim to enjoy life to the fullest. There is no escaping the need to make healthy and responsible choices, and Voli is a unique way to live that responsible life without making sacrifices. If you can enjoy a cocktail that is more delicious but has fewer calories . . . why wouldn’t you? Voli is the only brand that lets you do that. That’s new ground, ladies!
How do you like to drink your Voli?
I love the Orange Vanilla Fusion—it tastes like a Creamsicle—and the Fergie CosLOWpolitan! They are so delish! J’adore Voli!
Fergie’s Orange Vanilla Fusion
approx. 79 calories
• 1½ oz. Voli Orange Vanilla
• Splash club soda
• Serve over ice.
approx. 99 calories
• 1½ oz. Voli Original
• 1 oz. fresh lime juice
• 1 oz. diet cranberry juice
• ½ oz. agave nectar.
• Shake in a tin over ice and serve in Martini glass.
VOLI’S ON-PREMISE WORKOUT
We visited several upscale accounts nationwide to find Voli getting thorough workouts from top beverage directors and their in-house mixologists, who put the low-calorie spirit through its paces in cocktails that can please the most discerning palates.
Voli as Conversation Piece: David Burke Kitchen at The James, New York City
Connor Burke, Beverage Director of New York’s David Burke Kitchen, says they’ve had Voli at the bar for two months. It was a spirit he wanted to add to the restaurant’s program, given its large outdoor space: 100 seats for dinner and up to another 100 for cocktails.
“We’re one of the few restaurants in New York City that gets twice as busy in the summer,” Burke says. “We wanted to make a healthy alternative, fun, outdoor drink—something that could be a conversation piece.”
Beyond the novelty of the spirit, Burke adds, “The taste part was there, and then you get the added bonus of low-cal and how it stands out. Everyone is in love with it so far!”
And with spring in the air, Burke says it’s been taking off, even as the restaurant is preparing its outdoor space for the season. “I already know its future here: People love it—it’s going to be a hit.”
Erin Harris (left), Executive VP of Marketing for Voli Spirits, and mixology
expert Katie Mulholland at David Burke Kitchen in NYC.
by Katie Mulholland, David Burke Kitchen at the James, New York City
• 10 blueberries (plus extras for garnish)
• 5 mint leaves (plus extras for garnish)
• 2 oz. of Voli Original
• 1 tbsp. lime juice
• 1–2 tbsp. agave syrup (half nectar, half water)
• Muddle the blueberries and mint leaves. Add Voli, lime juice and agave syrup. Shake and strain into glass, top with club soda. Serve straight up in a Martini glass. Garnish with blueberry and mint-leaf skewer.
David Mokha is Beverage Director at Fontainebleau Miami Beach.
Voli as Crowd-Pleaser:
Fontainebleau, Miami Beach
At Fontainebleau Miami Beach, Voli has proven to be a year-round hit for two years according to Beverage Director David Mokha.
“You can see it has a lot of legs to it and is one of our most popular drinks at the pool,” he says, noting that guest like the unique composition as well as the lower-calorie option.
“It allows us to create lower-calorie alternatives to our traditional cocktails as well as a lower-alcohol alternative. All in, Voli has some great flavors that can be enjoyed on their own or in creative cocktails.”
Mokha says the spirit has a cross-platform demographic with guests attracted to the brand promise as well as its star affiliation. “I see all guests drinking Voli. It is really a diverse mix.”
from Fontainebleau, Miami Beach
• 2–3 fresh strawberries
• 3 lemon wedges
• ½ oz. agave nectar
• 1½ oz of Voli Lemon
• 1 oz. Ty Ku Citrus liqueur
• ½ oz. Ty Ku Soju
• Muddle first three ingredients in a mixing glass and fill with ice. Add Voli Lemon, citrus liqueur and soju. Cap and shake to mix. Strain over ice into specialty glass and top off with soda or Sprite. Garnish with a strawberry on a pick; serve with a straw.