This week, we chat with Drew Cesario, VP of Branded Sales at NorCal Cannabis. We spoke about how the DTC alcohol sales are doing, his experiences working for the biggest brands on the planet, and how he brought his experiences from the hospitality sector to the Cannabis industry.
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Welcome to another episode of WISKING it all. We're here today with Drew Cesario from NorCal Cannabis. Who's the VP of marketing and sales Drew ,thanks for being here.
Great to be here.
Yeah, absolutely. One of the reasons I was excited to really have you on the show was you're in the cannabis space, but for the longest time you've been in the beverages, the hospitality space.
And so I wanted to go through your journey of, you've worked at just to highlight some companies from the wine group to Southern wine and spirits to Absolute then, and we'll go through all that Bacardi. You have quite the amount of experience when it comes to beverage.
And so I definitely wanted to highlight that talk about that transition to the cannabis space. I appreciate you being here. And one of the places we generally to start it just the early days, I should say.
When did you first get into, you know, hospitality or the beverage industry?
Yeah. I got to really move into the beverage industry Three, because I saw family inside of it. a lot of friends inside of it that, were able to find that Nisha was like rewarding right out of college, took a job throws, doing marketing strategy for target, national geographic inside of an office.
Absolutely hating it and assuming that everyone hated their jobs. So after three long years, like convinced to move into beverage and. And got a roll over at the wine group, which a mentor of mine really helped me acquire and it took some time to get, but, was really exciting.
to me. I get to work with brands like Franzia and Cupcake and that value segment then allowed me to learn the fundamentals. And I get to do that across New York Metro and learn the distributor side but some wine and spirits. And then certainly on the supplier side, since they're the second largest wine supplier.
Wow. And so when you first started, what got you interested to switch from, like you said national geographic or were working on that side of things to switching to the beverage world, right? What got you into that first job into the wine group?
Yeah who's willing to drink, it, was a little bit of that. I think there was a little bit of pragmatism around spirits and wine as a whole, or is a steady industry it's been around for, a few centuries, with the exception of Kronos and, prohibition.
But I think. There's a lot of romance behind it. I think that there's a lot of romance between, both, brewery side with beer and the wine side, there are cultural is, think just having a relationship with those spirits was really exciting for me to get back to, little bit of ovarian roots and storytelling versus, the standard day-to-day job, but I think a lot of people right out of college are facing, which is like going to a cubicle, burned 30 years come out and hopefully be happy with the money you make.
Putting that happiness towards the future, that whole idea of one day when they'll be happy and then, 30 years of your life flies by. So I'm super curious. So tell me a bit about the wine.
So you were at the wine group was your first job. Maybe the first question I have is how did you go about getting a mentor? One of the things that we often talk about, on this podcast is, the importance of. Learning from your own mistakes, but also learning from other people's mistakes and that, that kind of importance of finding a mentor.
So how did you go about finding your mentor in the beverage space?
I was religiously curious and like engaging with people that were successful there. Both I was lucky enough, let me take a step back. I was lucky enough where, my uncle Luce's area was able to bring me in and he took a chance on me. And that gave me Giant foundation to stand on.
And he gave me day-to-day advice for the first year nearly on like how to navigate the distributor supplier relationship. But from there, I was able to make other relationships, certainly inside the distributor and other people within the company that could help me navigate, the role itself.
And I, think that it's just important. I think a lot of people are more. I think worried about asking for help then realizing like people are really excited about helping. Signed up for mentor opportunities actually a lot now, and I think I didn't cultivate as much as I could have.
To be a mentee. And I think people just seem like these people don't have time for me. And, they've got this entire story in their head and I think more often than not, people are really excited to share what they know. People always like talking about what they know and talking about themselves.
But I think people overall especially in this industry, hospitality as a whole arm givers, like they want to share and help people navigate. Especially how dynamic the space is. Let alone this year itself. I think a lot of people don't necessarily totally have the answers, but they can tell you like what didn't work for them.
And At the end of the year, I would buy these look, wall wine keys, in our write up and oats. And I would say thank you for the feedback. And it costs me, per person, maybe 20 bucks, but it went a long way with them showing gratitude and appreciation that I really appreciated their time and attention.
And I think that like converted people to , Hey, I'll pick up the phone when this guy calls.
That's cool. That's interesting. Because I think about it even, in my world, like I'm the tech world hospitality, but tech, and same thing. You'd be surprised. And then I could totally relate how many people are willing to help.
As long as you're willing to put in the time you can't be lazy. But I think people can feel when you're genuine, when you want to learn. And, when you're coming from that angle, I think people are really willing to help, and share their knowledge. Awesome. And so tell me, before we move on all right.
So you were at the wine group. Tell me a bit about what specifically you were doing at the wine group. And I'd love to know, I hear about, some maybe learnings you had during your time there before, before moving on.
Sure. It was, it's been a little while since I've talked to the winger, but I, first of all, they put me in a training program because I didn't know anything about beverage and I got to travel around the Rochester, Albany, like a lot of different a lot of different areas and States that.
I was just physically moving rotating boxes of Franzia. So like Franzie comes in a five pack. It's usually five liters, which is 25 liters of wine in a box. And it has an expiration date, which is a lot of their competitors don't have an expiration date. And so I would physically go into the basements a lot of these huge retailers across the state and other States and like physically unstack stuff, and then move out and credit them on everything that expired.
It was a lot of that for the first few months. I remember like being on the road and, finding the romance of traveling for work. And then that quickly dying after living in a suitcase for two months and not like waking up and not knowing where it was. And my girlfriend had to send me flowers cause it was miserable.
But, like from there, when I came back to New York was able to add a little value. Cause they knew a little bit more about the role in being able to touch a lot of people along the way. I was really engaging, trying to get cupcake wine, which was the fastest wine at the time, to a million cases like in restaurants, bars, clubs, hotels.
So I was able to like go to strip clubs and so cupcake Prosecco, because it was a really great price for their comp bottle and buying little ways to make sure that it was relevant and these like pockets. So I leaned a lot on my distributor partners and take them out for dinners and, tell him like, Hey, I'm reliable.
If you set me up with an account, all fall through. And like we were referencing earlier, like this whole industry is stacked on relationships and being reliable. I had to prove to them for one, all show up, all add value and I'll be reliable for the long haul. You can count on me.
And after I was able to kind of show them and demonstrate that, then they allowed me to open up, other accounts for them. And I was doing off premise as well. So I like to think of myself as like a kind of a intentionally lazy person. So I, we had these three liter bags in the box ones that we were like really trying to get off the ground.
And I would give them to retailers and give them like many tasting cups. And I would just comp them as many of those three, of back in the box ones at the counter at checkout, they can just try one. And then they liked it, they'd go buy it.
So it's like in-store are really important.
They're definitely the bedrock of getting new brands off the ground. They're miserable experience, but they're really important.
Yeah, that's interesting. Um, I was also curious, how does that work? I was spending time in Toronto, obviously originally from Montreal. So both in Quebec, the province and Ontario, it's all privatized.
So I guess you've got to make that relationship. And then, you can sample, how does sampling, I was always curious to work in the States because most of these liquor stores are privately owned. How does that process work when you want to get into the store? Is it like a one-off or is it, or is there like a hierarchy you have to go through.
It depends. You mean for the hierarchy of how many tastings you need to do or like how to get into, to do the tastings.
How to get into it. Yeah. How do you, like you want to sample a new wine? What's what does that process look like?
It's really it's really generating, pull through. So the retailer wants it, as much as you want it, right? Like they're for the most part, especially when it comes to new wine, even if it's part of a bigger group, like the wine group. They're going to ask you to do it. And you might actually of course, like offer to do it, but you're going to need to schedule that out.
Some of the higher end wine shops are going to have, scheduled for months out because the alarm volume pulls through there. And they've got clientele that are willing to pull the trigger, depending on what the tastings are. It's like the tastings at Costco.
If they didn't work. No one would be doing right. They work.
And so it's a good way to like, get people to taste your product. And it's a good way for people to like actually engage with it. When it's now labeled
No, that makes sense. And I guess honestly since this was like a while back, I could totally see that. I guess I wonder how do you go about competing, right? Like when there's so many different SKUs, when companies have wine, how do you go about competing for that tasting, right?
Cause I could see how the store to want to do the tasting, but how do you get your product to be the one they want to taste versus, the hundreds of others kind of thing.
To begin with You got to do the storytelling upfront, like what sets you apart? There's an origin story of everything. Even if it's, New Zealand solving and blocks on fire. And So we opened up, we decided to have two more new Zealand's audio blogs, which is definitely the case in New York.
At that time. There's a thousand New Zealand sound blogs on, on everyone's menu, especially at liquor stores. But I think, building a rapport with the retailer themselves, bringing them out, knowing, being curious about who they are.
Finding ways to like, get them outside of the store, if they're really difficult, important store, get him outside of the store, take them to a ballgame, take them to dinner. you'll learn a little bit about them. What sets them apart? What are they interested in? What wines actually did they, like? I would go as far as like buying other people's wines and giving it to them to make sure that like I can get preferential treatment on that, on the calendar schedule.
And then when I show up, like I would always do the tasting. I would never farm it out. And I would be like ready and engaged to do it. They want to make sure that their customers that are walking through are happy with the experience itself. And if you're going to stand there on your cell phone, like behind a booth, they're never going to bring you back.
It doesn't matter how like, engaging you are with them. Like it's all about their customers. And so you've got to make sure that you do it or somebody on your team does it, that can do the storytelling, don't farm it out to know, a beautiful young girl who typically is the role for this, but hasn't been trained on the product I'm not saying that it can't be done.
But a lot of times people don't invest in training and developing these people because they're hourly, one or two gig employees. So if you are going to do that, invest in the storytelling, make sure that they can reiterate it back.
That makes total sense. And then, you were there, at the wine group kind of got your feet wet, started learning about the beverage industry, traveling, all that kind of stuff. So what did that transition look like to then go to, Southern wine and spirits, which is, one of the biggest, if not the biggest distributor in the States.
So how did that transition happen? And then tell me a bit about your role.
So what's interesting about the wine group in Gallo is that they actually want you to cut your teeth on the streets with them. Then you'll go into the distributor as a foot soldier salesman or saleswoman for two years and then come back and then do a state management role usually having like a secondary state or tertiary state.
And so I was able to ride that path into Southern wine and spirits. I didn't come back because they didn't have. Opportunities that currently fit what I was looking for, but it was great moving into Southern wine and spirits. On-premise in Manhattan selling wine. And it was an exciting time to sell one in Manhattan.
Nearly with the exception of 20, 20, like always an exciting time to sell wine. And hadn't, you get to learn a lot. There's a lot of like boutique suppliers that you can partner with that you don't compete with, like temper, Neo, that. Allows you to broaden your wine knowledge, and it's really encouraged to go out there and get your CSW, your CSS, your w sat. And so you can speak the language. And so I was able to work there made sure that I invested in developing my wine knowledge and was able to, again, build relationships on premise with those,
right. And for people who don't know, can you just give them an idea of the scale of. Of Southern wine and spirits. Cause I'm always amazed when I realized how big they are. So I dunno, maybe if you could point to some numbers in terms of, size or number of employees or number of reps, but like it's a, it's quite a fascinating company and, in terms of the beverage space.
Yeah. There. They're not in every state, but they're in every state that matters. And that might offend some people, but it's just true. Yeah, they're a beast of a company and there's certainly pros and cons to that, but so the one in spirits is the dominant force in the distribution side of the country.
And I would say, guess to put it into numbers There's no way that they don't have 20,000 employees. They're doing over a billion dollars or a couple billion dollars in New York alone when I was there. They're the biggest company that you don't know of if you don't know the beverage industry.
they are the choke point of the three tier system.
Yeah. And on that note, actually, I think a lot of people don't know about the three tier system that are not in the industry. So can you paint the picture for people to understand how the beverage world works.
Yeah. After prohibition, the series of the full said acts, it was required by Congress to make sure that, the corruption that was really feeding, the underground, Booze industry at that time would be broken up. So you had suppliers and breweries, distilleries wineries could not own distributors.
And then those distributors of course, could not own retailers. Now, if you go to China or Hong Kong or some other places, like you'll see that you know, there might be a Martel, a bar or a Diageo bar like her own by these conglomerates and able to represent the products. In the same way that you would see like an an adidas outlet it's antiquated, it's interesting.
It adds to some competition. And in some cases, when you have a lot of consolidation over decades it can certainly stifle competition That's cool.
And so like at the top, right? You got your producers, let's say, like you said, Diageo, Bacardi, et cetera. They've got their portfolio of brands. And then I was always curious. So maybe you could even just clarify for me when these brands work with suppliers, whether it's, Southern wine and spirits or breakthrough Republic, but whatever it is, How do they work with is it sorry, let me take a step back.
Are brands exclusive per distributor or can many distributors carry the same brand? I was always like, curious about how that worked and then pricing wise, right? Can I buy a certain vodka from, Southern wine spirits, but also from Republic.
And then what differentiates that relationship, or is it just the relationship that the distributor has with the supplier they get preferential pricing or something.
So yeah, it depends on state to state. So each state it has its own laws around that. So for Massachusetts, for example, like once you, as a distributor give, or once you as a supplier, give a distributor a product and it could just be like one line, let's say absolute, this is an example absolute as a brand is represented in two different distributors, but in order to move it from one distributor or another, you actually, they have rights to that. To that revenue essentially into perpetuity. It's a kind of a, it's an absolute nightmare. Like you cannot move it. And so in order to move it, you have to have your distributor. If you want to move it from one to another, trade them for another suppliers product and then get that supplier of course want that to happen as well.
And that isn't the case in New York, but they do have Exclusivity contracts in New York. So it's a little bit more fluid. I know that empire distributors used to represent Bacardi and it was, and then Bacardi moved over to Southern wine and spirits. Earlier this decade I forget what, but it, yeah, that was a pretty big deal.
And then Florida is like a little bit more loose as a whole, and things can move a little more fluidly from what I remember. Versus all of those. So it really depends on it's wildly dynamic.
Yeah. Okay. Wow. I'm glad I'm asking you because I've always been curious about these things, but like you said it's quite complex and I forgot about that too. You're looking at it per States. And another quick question. This is for my own curiosity and hopefully for our listeners as well, but can a distributor work with more than one producer or is it exclusivity. If I work with Bacardi I'm with Bacardi or can I have Diageo products and the Diageo products and I don't know, beam Suntory products or whatever it is.
Yeah, no, there's no regulation there. Yeah. They can have an in, that sort of loosely referencing to Southern wine and spirits is that, Although they are an incredible company, for sure. There's no doubt about it. Once they start becoming have such a large book, some of these smaller suppliers become less of a priority, and there's only so much bandwidth on any back bar
that they're going
That's why someone went in spirits will sometimes like actually break up. So they have. The fine wine division in New York called Lobber. And that's, doesn't even go by Southern wine spirits. It goes by Lobber. So the wine spirits does the fulfillment of it, but they have different reps, they have different conversations, and they represent themselves very independently for the most part.
And in representing this like fine wine portfolio. Yeah. They their goal is and distributors to soak up as many suppliers as possible, because then you're just, you ha like any store or retailer or restaurant or club hotel, like has to work from
Which makes a ton of sense. So at this point, you're racking up a bunch of experience, right? You time at the wine group's finish or working at Southern wine and spirits. One of the biggest, if not the biggest distributor in the States, what's next?
What's next. And why do you transition, out of Southern wine and spirits, what did things look like for you and where were you at in terms of your career to be like, okay, I want something. Different because I think a lot of people just to paint the picture, I think a lot of listeners know who are in the beverage space, whether it's, distributors or actual, producers or, brand ambassadors, sometimes may be scared to move from one career to another. And one thing that I admire about you is I can see that transition of growth going from one, then learning and go to the next . So I love to hear maybe the reasoning behind your transition. You were at Southern wine and spirits.
What was next for you?
Yeah. I felt like I really had to move on. I was speaking with actually a lot of my mentors at Southern, Billy Regan ,Joseph Eager, and they were referencing how I was one of a number of guys in line that were very suited to take the next district manager role. And, I really felt that I needed to get off of the streets.
Mostly because like longterm, it's a tough job, and you start making really good money and it's hard to walk away from. This is like the proverbial golden handcuffs, right? You like end up in this role, you cultivate your territory, you develop all these relationships and then it's really hard to walk away if you want to.
depending on what career path you want, because you start making very good money. And and I just knew for me, long-term I didn't want to be a salesman forever. There's some people that are still friends of mine, or they're an athlete murder at night. I look back and wonder if I made the right decision.
Those guys are, they've got great lives, man. And and they just told me like, realistically, there's a lot of people with more experience. I've been here longer than I've been waiting in line, that we need to hire is just managers. I wasn't gonna make that transition anytime soon I was hungry.
And so I took a role At team enterprises to work on the Bacardi portfolio up in Boston. And that kind of got me out of New York and I felt also, it was important for me to diversify the locations in which I worked in. So I understood the distributor footprint and also had like relationships all over the country, which is why I've gone from like New York to Boston, to California.
okay. That's really cool. So what was the biggest shift, going from, a distributor, right? You were at Southern wine and spirits, and then going to team and specifically working on the Bacardi portfolio. So now you're going from, a distributor to the producer side.
So what was the biggest shift , working for a producer versus, the actual distributor.
I would say the biggest shift was for one, like learning the agency model. I got to work alongside John Cicero who certainly had in there for awhile and was and my cousin Ashley's Cesario was actually in the role before me. Even my cousin Theresa Cesario had been at Bacardi at the same time in Chicago.
So all of them like really helped me navigate the day-to-day like what's happening. It's pretty
Right? Yeah. Plus you said you had your uncle is in the business too, right? So, so
I've been very fortunate to be recruited into captain and had a lot of family to lean on in this path.
But , the biggest challenge was to be relevant to the distributor. The distributor, like we were mentioning earlier, like their whole business model is to have as many suppliers as possible. So they have the biggest book possible. So they're relevant to as many retailers and outlets as possible.
And so to be relevant, you need to go back to, I didn't go back to my roots of what I was doing with the wine group, cultivate relationships directly with retailers and restaurants, bars, clubs, like really mine was on-premise. So I was going to. The nicest restaurants bars, clubs, hotels making sure that I was adding value to them, to their current program,whether it made sense or not.
And from a fiscal sense. And then I would turn around and say, like to the distributor rep on the ground that was managing the relationship like, Hey, I just, added a new cocktail on. Do you mind like bringing me for right along? As you can see, like I add value, like I know what I'm talking about, now that I know these, the storyline, and I've got an expense account that can support, pull through at your accounts, can we work together?
So really it's starting again from nothing, especially in a new city, a little bit. Adding value everywhere you go. And then building some momentum and the relationships that you're cultivating.
I've always been curious about that. Maybe you can paint the image for me. I apologize , but I'm a curious person I love to learn. So from the distributor point of view, I think it's obvious, or at least more obvious for our listeners of how it works and, you're pushing product and building these relationships and, on-premise, off-premise that kind of stuff when it comes to the actual producers and in this case, let's say you're working on the Bacardi portfolio.
How does that relationship work? So you're still cultivating relationships. You're still talking about, the different brands you carry and whatnot, but ultimately I guess the part, the link that's missing in my head is how do you work directly with, let's say the restaurant or bar, but then it has to go to the distributor.
So you have to have both relationships, like how does that, I guess triangle work?
Yeah, you have to have both relationships. And generally as a supplier, your geographic relationship spans, at least four or five distributor salespeople, and you've got to navigate.
It's interesting. Cause like sometimes you'll sell and stuff, but if the distributor is not happy about, cause you're taking actually in bumping off a supplier that they already represent.
So you need to really know what their book is so that you're not like upsetting some business that they need cause you're going to alienate them. They've got their own goals and quotas across their whole suppliers. So you need to understand like what is in their book. And before you take something off, out of a key account that does a lot of volume, you've got to make sure that it's not something that is theirs.
And if it is there it get their blessing a little bit overall, like it's their problem, but you want to keep the relationship going, and so you can't just go out there and switch business around it. Like they've got a goal in mind of how they're going to hit their numbers and how they make their money.
So it is funky, like going into accounts and restaurants and like looking at what's behind the cocktail menu. And you've got to maintain both relationships and sometimes those relationships are great. Like naturally, like any relationship, like on a large enough scale, there's going to be people that don't like working with each other.
And you've just got to be a good middle man. Like you're the nice guy that comes around, adds value, sits at the bar drinks, brings people. brings people out from the restaurant and hopefully mends relationships in cases that aren't going well
Yeah, no, that makes sense. And Would you say it's harder and I guess it's subjective, but from your point of view, is it, was it harder to work for the producer side or for the distributors side?
It depends on how introverted or extroverted you are. got, that'd be extroverted, no matter what these roles are like, you just have to be, but you are, if you're like on the ground as a supplier, directly into accounts, you've gotta be a little bit more extroverted because you are not relevant unless you make yourself relevant.
If you're a distributor rep, like they have to order from you that you are their account manager. And then the supplier has to work with you to put in at least orders when they get an order. You can like rest on your laurels a little bit more because you are literally of the three tier system.
You heard the choke point. So you've gotta be out there a lot as a supplier and do a lot of things that are engaging, to make yourself relevant and worth, pick up the phone for.
Yeah, no, that makes sense. And honestly as you were saying it it never hit me, but like having a managed, both relationships that as on the producer side, managing the distributor, the restaurant seems like it'd be, , again, I'm just speaking from a third point of view here, but it seems like it'd be more difficult to certain extent.
I'm sure both come with challenges, but definitely I'm just thinking about managing, the restaurant and the actual rep and, it's a lot to handle. And At your time at Bacardi what were some of the, things that you've worked on, lessons learned at your time when working at Bacardi that you can share with our listeners in the industry?
Yeah. I think what makes Bacardi, so great is that they're, they've got rich stories of their products. They're very good at storytelling and they're really good at trade-marketing. And that really comes from team enterprises and really like their vision of making sure that Bacardi is relevant.
With the bartenders behind the stick. And so I think what was so great was being able to do, the Bombay Sapphire and Bacardi legacy cocktail competitions. It was a reason for me when I was new in, in Boston to engage with people who wanted to win these competitions and a reason for them to talk to me.
So I got to meet people who I'm still friends with like ran one who like, went on to win nearly like everything out there when it came to Bombay, Sapphire and Bacardi legacy. And work with them on the cocktails and at least get feedback. The little that I knew about like an unsophisticated cocktail palette, I got to sit back and watch, but like also through the events themselves and engage the Boston USBG on the event and what was like, the opportunity at hand.
And I think think for the first time too, like I realized like how fun a career in the spirits industry could be.
It was just a lot of, it was, we were paid to go out there and like actually just make bartending and, the supplier distributor relationship, like as easy as possible. And that was really the goal.
And for our listeners that don't know, can you just paint a quick image of what the Bombay, campaign was?
Yeah. The bombay Saphire most, I think it's a creative or innovative, cocktail. And they would really cultivate people who were, and this like artistry campaign, like how they could find really interesting ingredients to elevate, what they were putting out.
And it was really at somewhat near the beginning of, the bigger cocktail movement. And I think like it challenged people to, look outside of the box of what was typically easy to pour, with gin. And
I remember rand one, one with a yuzu cocktail. It's been, like eight years since that competition, so I don't know the rest of the ingredients, but, challenged people to tell their story, which was a really big part of the the competition is like, what was the relationship with spirits? What was their story? And like why the cocktail itself? So it really perfected like a little bit of storytelling, public speaking, and also the build on the cocktail and of course how it all came together.
But it was engaging for people to have this cocktail competition and a lot of different interesting places.
Like I held a oyster. It was like a lobster oyster Fest, like on one of the Boston Harbor islands. And that's where,
I got to have my cocktail competition. It didn't actually make a ton of sense, getting ice out there and everything else was a total nightmare, but it was a blast.
And I think everyone had a good time. And a lot of people hadn't even been who lived in Boston. Hadn't been to one of the Boston Harbor Yeah. So it was like a good experience, again, like for people to just come together, have drinks , and visit with people in the cocktail community.
And it's funny how impactful campaigns like this can be. Cause just as a quick side story One of our first guests on the podcast was Kevin Demers. Kevin is a, owner from Montreal has got a couple of venues, like the cold room, el pequeño bar, et cetera. But when we were chatting on the podcast, his first story, that of what kind of got him excited from starting off bartending, for cash kind of thing on the side to really getting into it was actually the campaign you just spoke about. And he said he ended up, he was surprised because he was this new guy and he ended up winning this competition in Canada, and then he got flown down to Vegas and he gave his whole story about how a $15 cocktail changed his life. So it's funny how it's come full circle.
You mentioning this campaign and it just triggered that memory in my head of Kevin and how it literally changed his world. And now he owns, three, four venues and it's his life. but really cool.
it's great. think that
those campaigns I think are just so engaging because for one certainly from a business perspective, it gets all those people to represent Bombay Sapphire on their menu. So there is like a fiscal pull through in generates business for Bombay Sapphire develops a relationship, an intimate relationship between the contestants and, the gene itself, how to work with it.
What are the botanical set in it?
But then I think more than that, cause I how many bottles does that really move a myself? I would, like realistically like a big retailer in one state, like moves through more of that than all of Bombay Saphires cocktail competitions combined, but more than all of that, it does develop those relationships with the spirit and though, like it elevates like it helps. Bombay Sapphire and Bacardi family, contribute to the movement of within the, cocktail community. And I think that what they so authentically have done in a great way is like, Make sure that they are investing in the bartenders and, their contribution to evolving, like the on-premise engagement, consumers engagement, like of what is relevant to drink right now.
And they are literally moving tastes. They're tastemakers. So I think that it's great for them to invest in the community.
And I think it's a great way that they do it.
So that makes a ton of sense. So you ended up leaving Bacardi portfolio and going to Absolut Elyx what's incited that change or that transition
Bacardi laid everyone off so that, and inside of that change they laid off 25% of their internal company and really gutted the advocacy team. It was over a team enterprises.
But yeah, it's brutal to have my career path changed up like that. But I think if it really happened for the better. I got to work with a lot of great people there and then get to reset over at at another supplier, Pernod Ricard, and work with the agency that they employ. So it was great to make that transition. And, I had some family over there as well, and so they were able to help me navigate what the transition might look like. But they had not had anybody in the Boston area. And so it was able to take over representing new England for, an up and coming spirit that that Pernod Ricard was putting a lot of money and investment into, which was Elyx.
It was pretty similar role as Bacardi. Baccardi has got a monster portfolio, right? So they've got Oxley, Bombay Sapphire , Bombay Saphire East . They've got just a huge portfolio, Dewers, Martini and Rossi. Grey Goose. The list goes on and on and in, this role it was one expression, it was Absolut Elyx and that was it.
They were the driving force behind all the copper of pineapples and the copper borrower that people see fairly common behind, back bars today.
And, I got to just really focus on Vodka as a category, which is the largest category. Yeah.
Gotcha . And would you say that it was easier or harder, going from, I don't know how many brands with Bacardi to then one brand, obviously the big plus I can imagine is focus, but apart from that what would you say were maybe some of the pros and cons
A big pro, like you said, is focused, right? Like it's really easy to quantify your impact. Like you're doing one thing versus trying to talk about, whiskey or rum or vodka or vermouth, or, yeah, list goes on. With Bacardi, which is again great, but like the pro, Bacardi's portfolio though, is you can be relevant in any place, like you can be relevant anywhere.
Yeah. Okay. So I can imagine that there's probably some pros and cons, right? Working on Bacardi portfolio, then transitioned to Absolut Elyx and really focusing on one specific brand. But I'd love to hear it from your perspective, maybe what some of those pros and cons were.
Certainly, think a pro. And working with Bacardi is that you're relevant to any outlet whatsoever. You can come in, talk about vodka. You can look at holds what are they, underrepresenting? On the cocktail menu or at their store and really find a gap, whether it be rum or gin or vodka or vermouth, like there's a reason to talk to you . And so it was easy to break into any account with Bacardi because you had to talk to me, Like you had to, there was something that you weren't doing, that we had something in the portfolio for. On the other side of it, it lacked a lot of focus and it was difficult to move the needle on all fronts at all times.
And so moving to Absolut Elyx looks as like pretty easy, right? Like I'm now the Absolut Elyx guy. That's all I do which can get a little monotonous, because you can only have so many martinis a day.
Especially with having an elevated vodka, their whole focus was certainly the cleaner drinking cocktail menu was really like where part of the menu is like where they want it to be positioned.
Yeah. It was a lot of martinis every single day, or, a lot of vespers , so it was good. It was good. What made like so fun too, is that they really knew that they had to create innovative cocktail serves and, punches to be fun. Their whole investment in creating the copper pineapples and those larger flamingos for punch serves and disco balls, like they made it relevant, in a sea of tall frosted bottles.
They were able to cut through the noise pretty effectively.
It's definitely iconic when I even think about going to events sometimes, tales of the cocktail comes to mind, but, like you said, you see the copper right away, Absolut Elyx. Definitely, from a branding perspective, a good job there.
And any memorable campaigns that you worked on, when you were at Absolut Elyx, anything that comes to mind in terms of. Guess just memorable or effective, right? Like we gave examples of the campaign of Bombay back at Bacardi, any parallels absolute
Yeah. I think, to come to mind we were able to do some data digging and recognize that any more that had a copper serve was doing around 11 times the as outlet that wasn't. It became really the imperative to make sure that we were getting in these interesting, serves.
To key restaurants and bars. So it was great to be able to have that resource, of the copper pineapple or the disco cabal or the Flamingo and list goes on. They're all, they're actually right behind me Coincidentally, there was an owl.
Because those are a side note. Can those be purchased online?
They can, like actually wildly profitable.
Section of the business has been like to focus on direct to consumer. The big business right now, the suppliers are trying to really get into is DTC. Yeah the copper serves are incredible. I've got pineapple cufflinks that I've purchased since left. Yeah, it's copper wallpaper right behind me, which I think is actually sold for awhile.
Yeah. they've done an incredible job taking a metal, copper and making it just synonymous with Absolut Elyx with the way that they actually do their distillation rectifying.
And I think. On the other note of what was really, memorable is that Absolut Elyx it looks, and I think that they don't do as well of a job talking about it, but they have partnerships with water for people.
And so for every bottle, they contribute about the equivalent of a bowl. I 'st 10 or 12 liters or 15 liters of clean drinking water. And so really what they're doing is actually going into these places with a partnership from water for people, and actually developing Wells that are self-sustaining in these rural areas in South America and around the world.
And I was able to actually bring that story to life a few times. But I think it's one of these contributions that the spirits industry goes unnoticed for And, I think that it's great that they continue to do this. And in fact, like if you buy any of the stuff from the boutique, a portion of proceeds go to support new Wells being developed.
And I think the future, like our generation is all about sustainability. And it's all about like environmental impact and just being conscious about your footprint as a whole. And
That's a great initiative. That's really cool. And it's interesting. I'm curious to know, from your perspective, like how are brands adapting or what have you seen? Cause we just touched on it for a second and I thought it was quite cool. The D2C right? The direct to consumer, As, we all know most people are staying at home these days.
And so obviously direct to consumer is important. Have you seen any shifts in the industry? Just from your perspective, like that brands have done to be top of mind for people at home
Yeah. I think that the big push is elevated cocktails at home in these like boxes and box programs,
but I think it's lazy and dumb. Like I just think it's lazy and dumb. I think that marketers right now are running out of ideas. It's been a healthy year for them. They're at home.
But no one no, one's making like five build cocktails at home with any volume.
Like they're just not doing it. No one's doing that. If I don't know the data and I was actually talking to somebody yesterday about it, my cousin Theresa, and we were like, Hey, I would love to see the data of like how much Dekuyper is selling or Vermouth the selling versus like the standard stuff at home, like vodka, right?
How much that's grown throughout this year. And my guess is that it's not much like people are not building really dynamic cocktails at home. They just won't like
for one it's wildly expensive, it has a tremendous amount of environmental impact because you're taking all the packaging and then shipping it.
There's like bottles upon bottles inside of, that one box. And then on top of it you've got to now make this thing and you're going to have one or two of them are you really going to have a penicillin at home? Like maybe one you'll do it once, but I just think. I think people run out of ideas on how to remain relevant in this off-premise world, that, the general volumes coming out of, I think Absolut Elyx is one of the few ways where they've developed like interesting cocktail serves and they've offered those and that's been able to like, through the Elyx boutique remain relevant.
That's a great answer. I think you nailed it cause a lot more people are drinking at home and for obvious reasons. But what's interesting, I think is that a lot of, like you said, companies, even just restaurants, bars, I know are trying this whole cocktail at home thing and it's, it's a good step one, but like you said, it's how profitable can it really be?
And how many times will people actually do it? Maybe, you do it once, but are you really going to be buying it every week and doing it right. And I think that's where I agree with you. Volume wise, I would question how, profitable it really is
it's not there. There's no way that the customer acquisition cost, the initial customer acquisition costs actually pans out to be like, you've got to have a long tail customer in order for that to be profitable and it's not because the costume wants you to get there. And look at blue apron, look at these like volume plays on the food side.
Like you're just not seeing a lot of profitability there, even
though they're stocks
yeah. I wonder if there's any beverage brands, Really trying different parallels. So what I'm thinking is, companies that have such a strong brand that all of a sudden they get into, I don't want to take apples and example, but let's say we take Apple, right?
Okay. They're known for computers, but then they got into cell phones and they got into headphones. So like really diversifying their product offering. I wonder if there's opportunities for brands that are known, like what someone's sport, a cool brand of clothing from or sneakers or whatever it is.
But like having that logo of a certain, beverage brand, it could be interesting if I haven't seen it personally, but I wonder if there's opportunities there
there is for example, Lagunitas, has partnered and makes hop, flavored cannabis drinks, they're in their backyard. They're great. They're absolutely incredible drinks. I love them. I pick them up anytime in California, which is all the time now and occasionally with the exception of the holidays.
Yeah, they're great. just expanded into cannabis space. What's more iconic than like the Absolute blue ribbon logo. Everyone has had a path, right? That's a great brand there's brand affinity there. They may not, people may not have had it for a while, but there's this soldier in a brand like that.
And they've expanded into cannabis into the cannabis space. Our generation is drinking less alcohol and I think focus more on health and wellness and balance, than previous generations. And so I think it's important that beverage companies adjust, we'll get Ketel in there, low ABV botanical set like that.
Was something, there was another couple of brands that have certainly focused on low ABV and they weren't able to penetrate that market and in reach scale. But, now low ABV, spirit brands, it's essentially gin, it's everything, but the Juniper
put out and they've done incredibly well.
Yeah. It's super interesting because we also had someone on the show his whole company is cocktails in a can, but they're from LA. And the whole concept is really like from farm to can,so all the ingredients are natural and that their focus is instead of just the spirit being the focus of spirit, it's super important, but it's every other ingredient , he was just telling us how, it's. What he sees in. And it's interesting is the same way that, I guess craft beer has, really spiked in the last, five, 10 years, he envisions this kind of same trajectory when it comes to maybe the spirit worlds can bring that into low ABV cocktails in the can.
And, that's his vision, which at which I can see, I can see how that will
RTDs makes so much sense at home right now, right? Like the RTDs are dominating and that's because again, people do not want to make five build cocktails at home. They're lazy. Everyone's tired. At the end of the day, they've been inside their home all day. They're not going to do it.
Yeah, no, I totally agree. And you touched on something, which I think is an interesting point. It's you think about the alcohol world and, you think about prohibition back in the day. And then once it was things were legalized how this whole kind of three tier system was built and now you got off-premise and on-premise.
But what's interesting is taking that parallel cause you touched on it on the cannabis space, where, in many places still illegal and a lot of places it's not anymore it's legalized. So I think it'd be super interesting to jump. A little into the cannabis space, because there's a few liquor brands getting into that space.
But you are also somewhat of an expert because going from, all those different liquor companies now you're working at NorCal cannabis. And you're basically. VP of sales and marketing. So I'd love to hear your thoughts on like where the cannabis space is going.
And maybe the parallel with the beverage space.
it's a lot. where's the Cannabis space going? It's an exciting time in cannabis. I'm really happy that we actually haven't had federal legalization. I know a lot of people outside the industry might think that's absurd for me to say, but really. What it's allowed is a lot of boutique growers, and a lot of infancy to be built like in respective States.
And it'll be a hell of a mess to unwind all the respective laws that are everywhere across the respective States, everywhere from blanket everything's illegal to medical, to recreational. But you gotta think like, If it went from zero to legal, federally legal, you would have RJ Reynolds, constellation, Pernod Ricard.
You have all these dominating companies that would come in, they would throw down farms and they would squash any small business from being able to be relevant.
And so right now, like it's great right now. It's so great because it's difficult to reach scale in some States, especially like Oklahoma, which is now recreational, and you have to grow within your own state and can't cross state boundaries with any kind of biomass whatsoever.
And if you're going to be in multiple States, you've got to have legal teams that understand each state's respective stuff. And like at Rose, in most States. Really encourage vertical for our goal alignment. So such as NorCal cannabis, we grow, several thousand pounds of indoor flower a month that we take down, we distribute that we distributed other brands.
We sell those two third-party retailers and we have a number of retail stores ourselves. We develop brands ourselves and then that allows us to touch every component of the industry as a whole. And I think a lot of brands, a lot of companies have done a lot of fast paced, institutional learning by being able to touch so many components of what's working, what's not working and the changing laws around it coming out of Sacramento and in California. And So I really like that we have not been federally legal so far. It's allowed companies. And of course there's a ton of money floating through, It is floating from the United States through Canada, back in the United States, into suppliers and distributors alike.
But it's allowed the infancy of the growers actually still exist. And there's still like a lot of mom pop growers that are incredibly interesting and farm to table, like Rose delights has Dominique Crenn making their farm to table
Like they're amazing. If you're ever in California should absolutely buy them.
Fantastic. So that kind of stuff just wouldn't happen. If we went from zero to federally illegal and, we had thousand acre, outdoor farms, it would just become another agricultural commodity.
first of all, that's an interesting angle. Cause I never thought about that for me, not being in the industry was ah, why, when are they just going to legalize it across the board? But, that makes sense, I could definitely see the big players coming in and just like you said, crushing everyone, which, would be a lot less of an interesting space if that would happen.
Really good point there. And, I'm curious just for my own knowledge what is. It seems like there's still a bit of a tiered system, but unlike the beverage space, if I understand correctly, you could also distribute and you could also have retail shops. If I understand correctly, is that the main difference?
I would say from a logistics standpoint,
Yeah. Yeah. You can be in one or all. You could be a delivery service that also is a supplier, making your own oils and fulfilling it. So it's still ripe for experimentation and new brands and going and evolving and consumer tastes are evolving.
The form factor that cannabis is typically associated with is smoking, right? Like people buy the flower, they roll it up, they light a joint they burn through it. and then you had, products packs come along, in, slow roast. the herbs, small brands like Meister and Octa that are coming out and that are building innovative ways to engage consumer cannabis.
So I think that what's going to be interesting for the transition is people are going to continue to like actually involve cannabis in their day-to-day life, from, sleep preventative to pain management, or, sleep encouraging the pain management, to, as a stimulant, as anti-depressent, however that they want to tailor it.
It's going to be interesting how people continue to provide things at scale, like drinks with Lagunitas taps, to, edibles that are beyond just like brownies and cookies, and gummies, that people want to have on a routine basis that are low THC, right? Most people don't want that 50 milligram gum.
They just absolutely can't handle it. Myself included. So there's gotta be scale, that allows people in right now beverage category represents like 1%. So there isn't a lot of scale there. So unless you're already at Lagunitas that has that glass supply chain, it doesn't make a lot of sense.
Gotcha. And I'm curious to hear a bit about do you see an opportunity there? based on the numbers right now, it, when it comes to the long-term, I guess adoption, right? Like you said, people either smoking it, either eating it right. Or the the only other alternative is drinking it.
So in terms of drinking it do you see the adoption happening in the future? Do you see a setting where not only direct to consumer, but maybe in an actual restaurant or bar you, you have that optionality
on-premise consumption lounges in California. And yeah. Yeah. And just to take a step back too, like there's a lot of other ways that you can enjoy cannabis, tinctures for sure. Patches, people are taking dabs for concentrates, there's a lot of there's lubes out there.
There's cannabis, in literally, every everything that you can possibly imagine and cannabis can come in. There's canvases in it right now, especially mature States like California. So yeah, I think that on a longer timeline, the cannabis lounges will continue to grow.
We have some, downtown san Francisco.
Great. There's a couple in Southern California. has one well represented one in LA, but it's going to be tough to have that at the bar.
And I really don't know what the transition looks like. It's difficult to test people for THC potency, like in their person.
And so I think it's going to be difficult for regulators to swallow the pill around the idea of allowing people to smoke
and drink then get behind the wheel. And. Think that on a long enough timeline, like sure it'll happen, but it'll be difficult even for the bar or the hotel, the restaurant, like how do they manage the consumers intake,
Yeah. That is a tough one. And then I always like to get a one, I don't have an idea of, the person on the podcast and, the products are behind. So sometimes we have restaurant tours and they talk about their products. Sometimes we have, like I said, we had the cocktail in a can Vervet and spoke about his product.
So I'd love to hear just a bit about NorCal's products, and maybe there's too many, but, if you want to just this is a chance to just share with our listeners, some of your products and what you guys do.
sure. Yeah. I'm very lucky to work with. And work at one of the largest indoor growers in the state. And because of that, we have an incredible line from tops to bottoms, to mids around what we represent. Our high-end line panacea is an incredible flower line that you're going to see, potencies that are actually mind boggling to most people, 25 to 39% THC, like big, beautiful nugs everything's hand trimmed.
Yeah. and Those come in, both bags and jars. And you've got an incredible line story behind that. Justin Benson founded that as a concentrates brand years ago and has won many awards. now it's like, been in partnership with NorCal cannabis to bring that product to life.
And really actually he sits at the kind of a, almost like a. Air traffic controller of all the flour that comes down and redirects what flower goes into what brand, cause the guy's just an absolute genius when it comes to know, the quality of flower and the associated brand, it should be in, and the next in line is a lifestyle brand called one life, which is really around, like having one life and being self-expressed and being creative.
And so we have our own team. We have, always an artist series going on. We worked with incredible street artists and that's brought to life by Jeff Rubin. And that brand is really his baby and the guy long time skater, long, deep relationships with places like Thrasher, again, like really lucky to have a lot of authenticity.
In the company. And so it's really cheap for us to show up and have real brands because we have real people paying some agency to come up with an idea of you should have a skate team. That's what I like Jeff Rubin. And like, how many people should I put on the skate team?
And and then from there we've got a brand, which, this is probably me in my roots, back at the wine group that I just love.
It's called Lolo. And it's just it's like the Kirkland Um, Workhorse brand. It's like the smalls and the mids, and we've got ready to roll and we take, really great indoor flower that might not look as pretty and provided, and incredible prices that people just absolutely cannot be.
Cause we're at scale and it's great flower. And if you don't, if you want to just buy a bag and roll it up into a joint, buy the ready to roll, it's incredibly reasonable price. We put in 21 gram bags and and You can't hate it, especially with all the Keith that's in there. too. It's a grand joint that you're about to roll out a really great price when that comes in pre-rolls as well, and some concentrates are coming down the pike. and then we got in an outdoor brand Occidental Hills, which is Jigar Patel.
Our CEOs. he grew up in Occidental Hills. And again , we've got like authenticity for days like Jigar and Sharif. Sharif's our head cultivator. They were growing and selling weed as far back as 13, they're just the, they are the OGs man. They're the O G it's like speak the same language and slang and weed forever.
And Yeah. The outdoor brand, we get to lean on some credible suppliers for, and work with great farmers, that that we're able to bring their brands and their biomass to the masses. Which I love like the cultivation story there and going back to the agrarian roots enhancing soil and like outdoor farming yeah,
yeah that's super interesting. And so from your point of view, what are some kind of lessons that you were able to take, right? You're a veteran in the beverage space for the longest time, from, we touched upon, almost some of the biggest companies from Southern to, Bacardi, to Absolut Elyx, Pernod Ricard you name it.
So you know, you're quite the veteran there. So when you transition to the cannabis space, what were some things you were able to take with you?
I think what took, what I took with me is understanding scale and the distributor supplier relationship, and best practices. And I think
what I didn't take with me is expectation of how it's supposed to go. It was really difficult, I think for a lot of people to make this transition that as people move and there is this like big migration from wine and spirits into cannabis right now, especially in California.
But a lot of people have struggled with it because they have an idea of how it works in wine and spirits. And it should work like that cannabis and like cannabis has its own culture has its own language. Like when I first got into cannabis, people were still refusing to use their last names.
This is they didn't provide their last names. It was still like everyone. Everyone who had any historical experience was. A bit of a criminal, as far as so that, that black market mentality is going to be in the DNA of this for years to come. And, but I understood how things work at scale and SOPs and relationships. And I just tried to stay as humble as possible and listen, and learn and be on the street as much as I could to like, make the transition make the transition work for the team that i was managing or myself.
And what was the, I guess the reason that kind of made you transition from beverage to cannabis in the first place.
I made the transition because I saw for me like the writing on the wall, the difficulty that it would take for me to move in the career trajectory that I want. I really had my mindset on a couple of certain roles that like were inspiring to me.
I wanted to build brands and I didn't want to take another 10 to 15 years to get there.
I wanted to play around with being able to build brands earlier in my career and, wine and spirits at like the big 10 or big five suppliers. It was really going to take another decade plus, and I'm impatient, and I saw all the opportunity in instability in cannabis to be able to come in and add a lot of value from what I knew historically.
And then play with building brands and building relationships in this like budding market. And I just didn't want to slave away behind a computer taking chain jobs for a couple of years at, at some of the bigger suppliers and then have to slowly work my way up into brand manager on the marketing side, I wanted to do both.
And Cannabis really at this time still now allows people to get in. I think if they work hard to get there.
That's awesome. And so any advice out there to our listeners who are maybe in the wine and spirits world and, interested in getting into the cannabis world, like any pointers to them?
Yeah. would say like it's a humbling experience. The industry will welcome you with open arms, but you've got to make the investment, right? Like you didn't come into not knowing when it spirits and not pick up some books, you had to go out there and learn, You had to go visit some bars and meet some people.
And if you're going to actually make that transition, like you have to make that transition. You have to make that investment. People will sniff out just like they do in wine and spirits. If you know what you're talking about or not. They just do, like authenticity is very transparent.
People got feeler for that. So if you're going to go into cannabis, you got to actually be able to talk about cannabis and actually be interested if you have, if it's a cash grab exclusively, like people are not going to want to work with you. And you're going to have to move around a lot as you would pick up experience and it's going to be hard.
So I encourage people to do it. I think it's an incredible industry. I love it. I get excited about it. It's like continuing to evolve every three to six months, man. It's a totally different industry, but you can not come in saying I know how this is going to work. Like you like coming in thinking that you're going to fix this industry.
Cause you're not going to do that because I've learned that the hard way.
Yeah. And it's agriculture again too. If you're coming from a distillery, agricultural, like breakdown is a little bit more manageable.
Yeah, I can find some intimacy, like with the plant itself, know about the cannabinoids to learn about your Terpenes, go out there, pick up some books and be engaged.
I didn't even know that term. That's a cool term, budtender , that makes total sense. And any, look, there's a wealth of knowledge and I think people can learn from, like you said, books to online to just finding mentors to companies, but do you have any books or resources that you recommend that have helped you
That's Leafly is an online resource that also has a book. That's incredible. I would start there and then it'll really out.
I would say there's a few like Terpene specific books. I'm forgetting the name of it. But there is one that has its own like Terpene Institute and it's absolutely fantastic. It has this like wheat engaging wheel that you can play around with to get an understanding of all the different form factors of cannabis, and then like the Terpenes themselves and how they react to you. Cannabis is way more difficult to anticipate impact on your body because your endocannabinoid receptors are different from other people's and the way that your Terpene profiles of flower change from, different genotypes and phenotypes.
It's way more complex than just if I have a couple of glasses of wine, like a red wine I'm I feel asleep. I think it just doesn't translate like that. If you're going to be out there, maybe cut your teeth on a couple, budtending jobs just to get an understanding of like how the recommendations are and get some free samples and supplies.
And pick up some books, Leafly is a great place to start.
That's amazing. That's awesome advice. And so one of the ways we kind of love to wrap up the podcast is with a segment called last day on earth. Usually the last day on earth, we just ask what would be your go-to drink and go to meal. But I guess with you i'll also ask, what would be your go-to bud, so to speak.
the word I'm looking for?
Great question. So I guess to fit in with the other segments I'll say, I'm definitely a nostalgic guy. I would have to go with my mom's cooking for probably some bolognese and some red wine, probably a super Tuscan or an older, Spanish, real hot get some leather tobacco notes.
And then what would I I'm a sativa guy, right? I'm like my stimulant. would definitely, probably go let's go all the way up.
Let's go Jack Herer, I'll go through the moon. I'm not going to be here tomorrow. So why not?
That's an awesome answer. Drew, honestly, so much insight. It's great to chat with you. It's great to have you on the show, just from your years of beverage experience in the wine and spirits world to transitioning to cannabis. A lot of great insights. I just wanted to thank you for being on the, this episode of WISKING IT ALL.
I appreciate it, Angelo. Thank you very much for having me
Absolutely. Have a good one.